Big 3: Bulldogs focused on staying in race

Georgia coach Mark Richt used his time on the SEC’s weekly teleconference Wednesday to discuss how the Bulldogs addressed their defensive communication issues during the bye week, the increasing parity within the SEC East and how Georgia hopes to keep itself in the race to defend its division title.

1. Cut back on big plays

Richt said the Bulldogs held a full-contact practice last Wednesday, as they would during spring workouts, so they could work on fundamental tackling skills. The open date also allowed the coaches and players to address the communication issues that have occurred in the secondary -- the culprit in many of the big plays the Bulldogs surrendered in the first half of the season.

Richt said the numerous combinations Georgia used in the defensive backfield created continuity issues and the resulting big plays marred otherwise solid efforts by the defense.

“[The secondary is] where the big plays have come from. The big plays are what kills a defense,” Richt said. “If you could take the big plays out and say, ‘What have you got left?’ we’re playing pretty solid, but you can’t.

“It’s just like the rushing game, if a guy breaks off a 75-yarder, a 65-yarder and you’re like, ‘He had 20 carries for 150 yards, but on 18 carries he only had 25 yards and then he got all the rest on the other two,’ you can’t say, ‘Well, it didn’t happen’ because it did happen. But once you do close that loophole of a big play, then you have a chance to really play some good defense. And so that’s what we’ve got to make sure we’re doing.”

2. East on the rise

Georgia’s conference schedule was an object of ridicule even before the season, but Richt has maintained the entire time that the Eastern Division would be tougher than critics were admitting.

Thus far it seems he's correct, as three SEC East teams -- No. 2 Florida, No. 7 South Carolina and No. 11 Georgia -- hover in or around the top 10 in the season’s first BCS standings.

The SEC West -- generally perceived in the preseason as the far stronger division -- has just two top-10 teams (No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 LSU), but it also features No. 12 Mississippi State and No. 18 Texas A&M.

“It is a strong league, period. We all know know that. I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s some really good teams in the East as well as the West,” Richt said. “We haven’t played everybody yet, but I’ve been watching and there’s some impressive teams for sure. But I’m not really surprised by that. I knew it was a matter of time before certain teams would just start rising again, so that’s not too big of a shock.”

3. Staying in the hunt

Georgia needs South Carolina to lose another game -- and Richt has drawn criticism in some quarters for publicly rooting against the Gamecocks through the last two weeks -- if the Bulldogs are to have a chance to return to Atlanta and defend the SEC East title.

The Gamecocks already won handily in the head-to-head matchup, so Georgia must win out and have South Carolina lose a second conference game -- it could happen this weekend at Florida, following last week’s defeat at LSU.

Richt said his team has to hold up its end of the bargain, starting this weekend at Kentucky, should another conference team do the Bulldogs a big favor against South Carolina.

“We know that we’ve got to play as if we do control our own destiny. If anything does break for us to put it back in our hands, we’ve got to be ready for that opportunity,” he said. “We were there last year, we know what it felt like and we just knew we had to keep grinding, we had to keep playing hard, we had to keep winning. And that’s just all we’re trying to do right now.

“It’s happened before, it could happen again and the worst thing that could happen is if it does, if South Carolina was to get beat again and we weren’t in position to take advantage of it, that would be something that we would regret. So we’re just trying to play hard every week and keep believing.”