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Friday, October 2, 2009

Notebook: Turnovers Remain a Concern for Dawgs

In many ways, Georgia and LSU have had similar seasons. Both teams rank near the bottom of the conference in rushing yards, have seen highly regarded offensive lines struggle and have failed to get a consistent pass rush. But if there’s one statistic that starkly contrasts the Tigers and Bulldogs, it’s the turnover margin.

Through four games, LSU leads the SEC with a plus-seven turnover margin, while Georgia is among the worst teams in the nation with a minus-nine.

While that’s a concern for head coach Mark Richt, he said the past doesn’t have to be prologue to what happens Satuday.

“Turnover ratios are important, but what’s happened in the past I don’t think is very important at all,” Richt said. “I’m more concerned about the turnover ratio Saturday than I am what we’ve had to this point, so hopefully we’ll get that thing turned around and be in a whole lot better shape.”

To ensure that happens, Georgia’s coaching staff has taken a more disciplinarian approach to preventing turnovers during practice this week, but that’s not always a solution.

“We work on that every day at practice,” wide receiver A.J. Green said. “I don’t know what’s the problem. It’s not like we’re not trying, but it’s just happened.”

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said the team actually enhanced its discipline for fumbles and interceptions during practice last week, making the entire team do calisthenics when one person coughed up the football. The result was yet another three-turnover game.

“This week we (did) a little more ball security at practice,” Bobo said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to talk about it to the team every day. We want to practice it to where they’re consciously doing it in practice. It’s like telling somebody after they drop a ball, ‘Hey, catch it.’ Well, why did they drop it? You’ve got to coach it up.”

Linebacker Rennie Curran hopes the increased focus on protecting the football works because with No. 4 LSU coming to town Saturday, the Bulldogs can’t afford to give away offensive drives and set the Tigers up with easy scores.

“When we play a team like LSU, we have to have a perfect game,” Curran said. “We can’t give them any room to breathe. We have to get ready to play our best game of football. We have to put all the mistakes we made behind us, get ready to have a great game and put it all together.”


Freshman defensive end Montez Robinson had seen little action during the first three games of the year, but was on the field for a few extra snaps last week against Arizona State.

That’s a trend that defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said could continue, and if Robinson keeps progressing at the same rate, Georgia’s defensive ends could become a lot more dangerous as the season goes along.

“He’s getting better and better,” Martinez said. “He’s learning the system, and he’s a great athlete. And we need it. We need that push. He did some nice stuff. He’s learning it, and he’s got the ability, so that’s a good thing to see.”


Georgia’s big defensive stands in the fourth quarter of last week’s win over Arizona State proved to be crucial in the Bulldogs pulling out a last-second victory, but the effort also helped to rejuvenate the beleaguered defense, too.

“That fourth quarter was huge,” Curran said. “It shows we’re a serious defense. It shows that no matter where we are on the field we’re going to stay positive and we can stop anybody. That was our attitude when we got that sudden-change situation. Before we even hit the field, we were like, ‘Hey, let’s do this. It’s our opportunity to show greatness.’”


After four weeks of tough tests against four BCS-conference foes, Georgia’s players admit they still aren’t quite sure how good the team really is, but safety Bryan Evans thinks the hard-fought games are helping to shape the team’s identity.

“We don’t have a true identity yet,” Evans said, “but it’s molding into an identity where we’re fighting through the tough games.”

Of course, the real mark of a good team always comes down to its record, quarterback Joe Cox said, and on that scale, he’s happy with where the Bulldogs are at.

“I know that after Week 1, if you’d asked us where we wanted to be going into the LSU game, we’d have said 3-1,” Cox said. “That’s where we are. We’ve found ways to win, we’ve stuck together. When the defense needed to make plays, we made plays. When the offense needed to make plays, we made plays. So there’s a lot of things in between that we need to correct that could make us a pretty good football team. We’re fully aware of the things we need to work on, but once we correct those things, we could be a good team.”


After racking up 43 yards on 12 touches in Georgia’s first three games, freshman tailback Carlton Thomas disappeared from the offense last week. But offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said the team hasn’t forgotten about him. In fact, with the running game struggling, Georgia’s coaches aren’t crossing off any options from the playbook.

“I would not rule out Carlton Thomas,” Bobo said. “We haven’t ran the ball like we’ve wanted to, so I wouldn’t rule out any running back on our roster getting a chance to run the ball.”


Georgia’s ground game ranks 11th in the SEC through four games, and while the blame has been shared between the offensive line and the tailbacks thus far, there’s a chance the entire offense is to blame.

Through four games, nearly 70 percent of all of Georgia’s offensive drives have lasted five plays or fewer, meaning few opportunities for the tailbacks to get in a groove running the football.

“It’s hard to get in a groove, and once we are in, we’re pass blocking or don’t get the ball for entire series,” tailback Caleb King said. “But the balls we do get, we have to do better at taking advantage of it.”

Richt said he isn’t going to complain about Georgia’s quick-strike touchdowns, something quarterback Joe Cox has made a habit of so far. But the number of turnovers and three-and-outs has been disturbing, and it’s a trend he hopes will change this week.

LSU also provides an opportunity for Georgia to improve its running numbers, too. King said the Tigers play an aggressive style in their front four, and the best way to counter that is to run the football – meaning he’ll have more chances to make a big play.

“I think we’ll run the ball a lot, so that’s a good thing,” King said. “We’ll see what happens.”

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