No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 4 LSU
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium
TV, radio: CBS; 103.7-FM, 106.1-FM
Web site: www.georgiadogs.com
ATHENS — Georgia is defying conventional football wisdom, which goes like this: The team that turns the ball over the most usually loses the game.
The No. 18 Bulldogs have a total of 12 fumbles and interceptions through their first four games, but they’ve managed to win three times heading into Saturday’s crucial Southeastern Conference game against No. 4 LSU.
Only five teams in the NCAA’s top division have a worst turnover ratio than Georgia, which has recovered one fumble and made two interceptions for a whopping minus-9.
The cumulative record of those other five teams — a dismal 4-14.
“We work on that every day in practice,” receiver A.J. Green said. “I don’t know what the problem is. It’s not that we’re not trying to work on that. It just happens.”
While coach Mark Richt downplayed the problem, the Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0 SEC) are unlikely to keep winning — especially against a team of LSU’s caliber — if they keep playing so loose with the ball.
The Tigers (4-0, 2-0) have the country’s fifth-best turnover ratio (plus-7).
“Every time you throw, you’re taking a chance. Every time you run it, you’re risking a fumble,” Richt said. “We’ve just got to play ball and work on the fundamentals, things like ball security and making good decisions. The better we block, the better chance we’ll have of not having turnovers. It all works together.”
The turnovers nearly cost Georgia last week against Arizona State. After building a 14-3 lead, the Bulldogs lost a fumble and were picked off twice in the second half. The fumble led to a Sun Devils’ touchdown. The interception was returned all the way to the end zone, the second time that’s happened to quarterback Joe Cox this season.
Another pick set up Arizona State for a go-ahead field goal attempt late in the game. Green, inserted on the kick-blocking team, leaped up to swat away the ball. Georgia drove down the field and kicked a field goal as the clock ran out for a 20-17 victory.
Cox, a fifth-year senior, has already thrown five interceptions, more than any other quarterback in the SEC. But he’s also thrown nine touchdown passes, so the Bulldogs don’t want to rein him in too much. Besides, those seven fumbles are an even bigger issue.
“We can’t say, ‘Gosh, let’s not throw it because he could throw a pick,’” Richt said. “Yes, the turnover ratio is important. But what happened in the past is not important at all. The turnover ratio is most important this Saturday. I’m more concerned about what happens Saturday than what’s happened to this point.”
There’s no common thread to the turnovers, nothing that would lead the Bulldogs to devote extra time in practice to one particular area. This past week, for instance, running back Caleb King fumbled after being hit by one of his own linemen, who was hustling downfield trying to set up another block.
“We’ve had a little bit of everything,” Richt said.
The defense isn’t doing its part, either. Georgia has forced fewer turnovers than any team in the SEC.
“We’ve got to catch the ball when it’s thrown to us. We’ve also to get some fumble recoveries, force some fumbles, try to strip the ball while making tackles,” safety Bryan Evans said. “I don’t think we’ve done as well as we would like as a defense. It all comes with practice. We’ve just got to keep practicing on it and maybe it will happen sooner or later.”