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Post Mindset for the next stretch

Friday September 16, 2011

Tuesday’s news that DL Jordan Watkins chose Stanford over Georgia brought into focus one of the chief problems Mark Richt will have on the recruiting trail between now and December. The issue isn’t even that Watkins went elsewhere. It’s how any news like this will be reported for the next several months.

Here’s the AJC’s take on the story. It’s reported five paragraphs in that “the Cardinal gained inside position after (Watkins) took an official visit to the California school in July.” Watkins said after the July visit that “I felt like it was the place I really wanted to be.”

But what was the lede? “UGA’s 0-2 start and widespread speculation over Mark Richt’s future may have cost the Bulldogs the chance to land one of the nation’s most-heavily recruited college football prospects.” Really?

It’s not worth dwelling on. Even if Richt’s status weren’t a factor in this particular decision, you can bet top prospects across the region are being beaten over the head with the uncertainty. It doesn’t help that Georgia’s own athletic board is contributing to the fodder. No one is making it up though – 6-7 happened, the program has been in decline for a few years, and Richt’s position is shaky. If the media and negative fans stopped piling on tomorrow, the body of work still says it plainly and loudly enough. Richt can get rid of the gray area by winning games and titles. It’s a losing proposition when you have to waste words about the exact temperature of the hot seat.

With a win expected on Saturday, a lot of people are using the down time to reassess Richt and the goals for the season. Some of them have a lot sharper crystal ball than I do. If he wins these games, if he loses that game, if he finishes with this record…they seem to have the formula down. I can’t see much further than the last game.

It’s an indefensible position to claim that things are better for an embattled coach after another loss and an 0-2 start, but I think there’s a little tone-deafness in how Georgia fans were reported to have taken the latest loss. You’ll find someone to support any claims of “unabating vitriol.” Still, I’ve been surprised with the reaction to the South Carolina game. It’s not unbridled optimism, but the mood is definitely not as black and lynch mob-by as it was a week ago – even after another loss was added on top of the first.

I think the best we can say is that not many minds were changed by the South Carolina game. A loss didn’t cheer those already resigned to the need for a new coach. On the other hand, that wasn’t the kind of game that left you exasperated with the coaches and without hope for the rest of the season. You can’t say that about the opener.

I was disappointed by Saturday’s loss, but even sitting there as the stands emptied I couldn’t wait to see the team back out there again. It was just starting to get good. I want to see what Crowell, Mitchell, Boykin, Jones, and even Bennett will do next. It was exciting and entertaining football by a team that picked itself up from the mat half a dozen times – again, a 180 from last week. That’s certainly no claim that the ship was righted and all of the problems are in the past. It even has little to do with Richt. Whether this is his last year or not, Georgia won’t lack for interesting players, and that makes for fun games.

Of course the progress won’t be linear, and two points don’t make a trendline. We all know what we’d like to see this weekend, but we’ve also all seen mid-day yawners in front of a disinterested half-full stadium before. It’s also wrong to think that things will get easier even if the immediate schedule might not feature many ranked teams. Three of Georgia’s next four SEC games are on the road, and the one conference home game is against a quality opponent that will be desperate for their first SEC win. Mark Richt’s next challenge will be sustaining the urgency and fight the team showed against South Carolina. That game, although a loss, still gave the fans hope that the team has enough to navigate the rest of its schedule. It’s now up to Richt to deliver on that potential.

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