Georgia vs. Tennessee
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville
ATHENS — Mark Richt has heard criticism from Georgia fans impatient for a championship and especially tired of losing to Alabama.
Richt said Tuesday he understands the complaints.
“I don’t blame people for being critical of what happened on Saturday,” Richt said. “I don’t at all. I love the passion of our fans that they care enough. I really do. But we’re more critical than they are as far as you look at yourself in the mirror and say you didn’t get the job done.”
Following last week’s 38-10 loss to Alabama, No. 19 Georgia will play at Tennessee on Saturday.
Richt said the loss “certainly gets everybody’s attention” for the Tennessee game.
Instead of being undefeated and at the top of the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division, Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC) trails Florida in the division.
The loss triggered old questions about Georgia’s inability to win the biggest games under Richt — especially against Alabama. Georgia was ranked No. 1 in 2008 when Alabama raced to a 31-0 halftime lead and won 41-30 at Sanford Stadium.
The Bulldogs won two SEC championships early in Richt’s era, but the last title came in 2005. Georgia lost in the 2011 and 2012 SEC championship games. The 2012 loss was to Alabama.
Senior Malcolm Mitchell said he understands the fans’ frustrations.
“With some of the losses we’ve faced, fans do get upset, which they should,” Mitchell said. “Anytime you give your all emotionally to a team and they don’t perform well, you feel bad.”
Mitchell said he received only positive feedback from fans.
“I know after Saturday, I got several messages on social media with fans being supportive, encouraging us to keep moving forward,” he said.
Richt said last week’s loss will be a teaching tool. He said players and coaches will be motivated to avoid “the feeling that you just don’t want to feel again.”
“We do feel like we put it behind us,” Richt said. “We feel like we’ve made the corrections we need to make and we’re moving forward and hopefully be better because of the changes.”
Richt has tried to shift the focus to Tennessee. He allowed room to second-guess one coaching decision in the Alabama game, which was played in heavy rain that made the grass field less stable.
Richt said Georgia shouldn’t have tried to run around Alabama’s defense on the soggy field.
“I think strategically, we’d have been better off trying to go downhill more than try to go outside,” Richt said.
Tailback Nick Chubb quickly agreed when told what Richt said.
“Yeah, I thought we should go right at them,” Chubb said. “I trust the coaches and what they’re going to call.”
Chubb still ran for 146 yards. Georgia’s only touchdown came on Chubb’s 83-yard run in the second half. It gave him 13 straight games with at least 100 yards rushing, tying Herschel Walker’s school record. Georgia’s list of Walker’s streak includes the 1981 Sugar Bowl.
Mitchell said Georgia can protect its championship hopes if it regroups quickly. Another loss at Tennessee would be more devastating.
“The worst thing you can do is let something that happened the previous week affect you in the weeks to come,” Mitchell said. “That’s when your season goes downhill.”
The loss was especially humbling for Georgia’s offense.
Quarterback Grayson Lambert completed only 10 of 24 passes for 86 yards. Brice Ramsey replaced Lambert but completed only one pass and had two interceptions.
Richt said Lambert will start against Tennessee.