Georgia vs. Tennessee Tech
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
On Radio: 103.7-FM; 106.1-FM; 550-AM
ATHENS — Joe Cox has only four games left to help Georgia salvage its season.
For one scary day this week, the quarterback feared he’d lost that chance.
After taking one day earlier this week to consider benching Cox, coach Mark Richt is sticking with the starter for Saturday’s game against Tennessee Tech.
Cox threw three interceptions in Georgia’s 41-17 loss to top-ranked Florida last Saturday. Quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo told Cox on Sunday the coaches were considering a change. Richt met with Cox on Monday and said the decision to stick with Cox was unanimous among the coaches.
The coaches’ vote was a confidence boost for Cox, but it didn’t totally erase the day he spent fearing he’d lost the starting job.
“It meant a lot, but at the same time I still had in the back of my mind that they were still considering making a change,” Cox said. “That’s a reality check.”
The wait for a verdict from Richt and Bobo took only one day, but it was a difficult day for Cox, who was Matthew Stafford’s backup the last three years.
“I didn’t feel very good,” Cox said. “I felt like I really let something slip away that I had really been working hard for. But at the end of the day it’s a bottom-line business and if they felt a change would have helped, that’s not my call. I knew it was out of my hands and I just had to hope for the best.”
Cox knows he’s not the only reason Georgia won’t win the SEC or play in a major bowl this season. Georgia (4-4 overall, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) has problems at more than one position.
The quarterback can’t be blamed for Georgia giving up more points or rushing for fewer yards per game than any team in the SEC.
Cox says it made sense for the coach to consider a switch.
“That’s just part of football,” he said. “If things aren’t going well, sometimes you have to make changes to do something that can cause a spark.”
Cox has completed 131 of 229 passes for 1,746 yards with 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He ranks third in the conference with his 218.2 yards passing per game but has thrown at least one interception in every game.
“You’ve got to really look at yourself and how you’re performing and see what you can do to make it better the last four weeks of the season,” he said. “I was glad (Richt) told me what he told me and now it’s just a matter of working hard and just finishing up these last four weeks strong.”
Cox’s teammates were aware of the talk of a possible change at quarterback. The deliberation by Richt and his staff was accompanied by public speculation.
“It’s something that I’m sure hurt Joe a little bit hearing somebody say he shouldn’t be the starter, but Joe is a tremendous worker,” said tight end Aron White. “We know that the people that matter are out there on the practice field and we’re not going to let outside opinions affect the way we practice or the way we prepare.”
Linebacker Rennie Curran said the decision to stick with Cox was “huge.”
“This season has really tested our character, and it’s great to know that you have coaches that believe in you even if you make mistakes,” Curran said.
Richt plans to play sophomore Logan Gray behind Cox this week. There is no plan to play freshman Aaron Murray, who is headed for a redshirt year. Murray is listed ahead of another freshman, Zach Mettenberger.
“My feeling is this: If you’re going to put a freshman in there, you start him and you start him the rest of the way,” Richt said. “But did anybody really earn that? They didn’t. Do you think that one day they will be great players? I think yes.
“I think both those guys have got tremendous potential. We’ve got extremely high hopes for their careers, but to say one guy earned it over another, that didn’t happen.”
Gray was 0-for-3 passing against Florida and had an interception returned by Brandon Spikes for a touchdown.
Richt said he plans to play Gray “at least a series.”
“You hate to promise any more than that because sometimes things will make you decide not to do that,” Richt said. “We did want him to know that we do want him to play, that he will play, so prepare your mind and body for that.”
Richt is changing starters at tailback. Sophomore Caleb King will make his first start, replacing freshman Washaun Ealey, who has started the last two games. Richard Samuel, the team’s leader with 375 yards rushing, has six starts.
Ealey led Georgia with 17 carries for 70 yards against Florida but struggled in pass protection.