Big 3: Richt facing former assistants

Mark Richt and his fifth-ranked Georgia team (8-1, 6-1 SEC) need a win against slumping Auburn (2-7, 0-6) to return to the SEC championship game, but Saturday’s matchup is even more personal than usual for Georgia’s coach.

Richt used his time Wednesday on the SEC’s weekly teleconference to discuss facing Auburn assistants Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez, both of whom served on Richt’s original Georgia staff in 2001 and at some point held the defensive coordinator title at UGA.

1. Emotional connection

Asked whether Saturday’s game presents any emotional conflict for Richt in coaching against his former co-workers -- as well as a former college teammate at Miami in Martinez -- Richt essentially said it’s just a football game.

“I love both of them and I have a high regard for them,” he said. “I love their families. They’re great people, great coaches and I enjoyed my time working with them, and I’ve known them a long time. I mean, I played ball with Coach Martinez back in college and I’ve known Coach VanGorder a long time, so [they’re] just very good friends to me.

“But as far as the emotion, my emotion’s going to be focused on playing a game. The bottom line is we’re coaching a game, both sides. That’s’ all we’re doing.”

2. Auburn’s defensive struggles

Richt gave a not-so-subtle endorsement of another year for Auburn’s coaching staff, despite the enormous struggles they’ve endured this season. VanGorder is in his first season as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator and Martinez his first as secondary coach. Richt said there is always a transitional period when installing a new scheme and observed that Auburn’s defense has performed well overall, with the exception of a game two weeks ago against Texas A&M in which the Aggies collected nearly 700 yards of offense.

“Year 2, you see so much more results,” Richt said. “You’ve got a bunch of guys rolling into spring ball that know what you’re talking about. First spring ball everybody’s looking at each other like, ‘This is a brand-new language for me, this is a brand-new technique for me, this is a brand-new language for me as far as how the coach says some fundamental key words that people use.’

“Everything’s a little bit different. You’ve got to just learn your coaches and learn the system, so it takes a little time. But I’ll say this, I think their defense is playing pretty darn good if you ask me. I think they’ve had one rough game against A&M, but I think they’re playing pretty darn good.”

3. Praising the scouts

Richt was relatively brief, but he made a point that he often makes when pleased with the energy in a Tuesday practice. He praised the scout team -- in fact, he often asks reporters to mention that group’s help in post-practice notes -- for its work in simulating another upcoming opponent and setting the tone for a good practice.

“It was important for them to give us the best look as possible and I thought the guys really did well,” Richt said. “Because of that, the practice went well. When we did do our competitives against each other, offense versus defense, it was pretty spirited, as well, so I thought we got better yesterday.”