Big 3: Richt focuses on run defense

With an enormously important game against No. 2 Florida ahead on Saturday, Georgia coach Mark Richt used his time Wednesday on the SEC’s weekly teleconference to discuss the importance run defense, momentum and improved defensive intensity will have in the Bulldogs’ showdown with the Gators.

1. Defending the run

Richt has emphasized all week the importance of turnovers in his experience in the Georgia-Florida series. But aside from that key element of the game, he believes Georgia’s ability to slow down Mike Gillislee and the Gators’ dominant rushing attack -- and the Bulldogs struggled in that area last weekend against Kentucky -- will be the biggest determining factor in the outcome.

“Can we effectively slow down their run game to the point where we can get them into some third-and-medium and third-and-longs -- and then at that point get off the field?” Richt asked. “I think if they can comfortably stick to their game plan of pounding and grinding and taking the clock away and playing great specials and playing great defense, that’s hard to beat obviously. No one’s been able to beat them yet. So we’ve got to find a way to try to slow that down.”

2. Battling an opponent’s momentum

The Bulldogs were disappointed by the way they responded when South Carolina built early momentum by taking a 21-0 lead Oct. 6. That 35-7 loss is Georgia’s only defeat to this point, but Richt knows it won’t be their last if they don’t handle momentum swings better than they did in that flat performance in Columbia.

“It’s hard to change,” Richt said. “Just like South Carolina playing at Florida [when the Gators won 44-11], you turn it over on the first play and give them points and before you know it, there’s two or three turnovers and it’s 21-3 or whatever it was and it can become where it feels like it’s overwhelming and sometimes you can never dig your way out.

“Everything is magnified in games like this and we have some experience with it at South Carolina and didn’t handle it well. Hopefully we’ll handle it better this time around.”

3. Building off Williams’ criticism

Although he said it should not have been done in public, Richt said safety Shawn Williams’ much-publicized comments earlier this week about the defense playing soft were “kind of healthy.”

He said it’s a good thing when players take ownership of their disappointing play instead of coaches always having to point out errors. The key, Richt said, is for the Bulldogs to use the intense emotions that Williams’ comments inspired to help them play a more energetic brand of defense. After entering the season with enormous defensive expectations, the Bulldogs sit in the lower half of the SEC rankings in total defense and scoring defense.

“Do I think it was a catalyst to help jolt our guys a bit? I think so. We’ll see how the reaction is on Saturday,” Richt said. “But I do think that the guys have an expectation like everybody else and they know they haven’t met that expectation, so they want to do better. They do care very much and we do have a very good unified group even though sometimes in the family somebody might say something you don’t like. It hurts your feelings. But in the end, it was done in such a way with the intentions of making things better -- and that’s what I think everybody’s focusing on right now.”