Defense the name of the game at Georgia

Updated: October 14, 2003, 7:03 PM ET

ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt came to Georgia with a reputation as a freewheeling offensive coordinator.

Well, forget about the fumblerooskie.

The fourth-ranked Bulldogs are a team built around nation's No. 1 defense -- a development that doesn't seem to bother the head coach at all.

Sure, Richt still gets a kick out of throwing the football and scoring lots of points. But winning is the only stat he truly cares about.

"We've had games where the defense is playing well and the kicking game is going well," Richt said Tuesday. "Sure, I could do some things to try to score more points, but you have to do take some risks to do it. That can make you look better -- or it can blow up on you."

In that respect, Richt sounds a lot like a former Georgia coach.

During his 25-year career, Vince Dooley was often criticized for being too conservative when he rambled on about things like having a good defense, establishing the running game, avoiding turnovers and playing well on special teams.

These days, Richt sounds like a Dooley protege.

"He had to shift what he is," said Dooley, who is now Georgia's athletic director. "He's a head coach now. Everything has got to be important. He knows you win with defense, offense and special teams. That's what being a head coach is all about."

Before coming to Georgia in 2001, Richt played a big role in developing one of college football's most dynamic, innovative offenses at Florida State.

He coached two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke. During seven years as offensive coordinator, Richt had five teams finish among the top five in scoring -- including a 42.4 average in 2000.

But Richt has shown he's more than just an offensive guru during three years with the Bulldogs. He's more than willing to rely on the defense -- and what a defense it is.

Georgia (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) has surrendered just 255.2 yards a game, best in the nation. The defense has given up only seven touchdowns and ranks third in points allowed (11.8).

Why take chances on offense when you can put those guys back on the field?

"As a coordinator, all I thought about was how many yards we had and how many points we had," Richt said. "I still like having a lot of yards and I still like having a lot of points. But as a head coach, you do what you can to secure the victory."

Georgia quarterback David Greene first noticed the change during a 35-15 victory over Mississippi in Richt's debut season. The Bulldogs threw only 14 passes, but fullback-turned-tailback Verron Haynes rushed for 192 yards -- the most by a Georgia back in nine years.

"I wasn't throwing the ball well," Greene remembered. "So we just handed the ball to Verron. We were able to grind them down and let the defense hold them."

Last season, Georgia won its first SEC championship since 1982 with a defense that ranked fourth nationally in points allowed. Nothing much has changed this season, despite the loss of nose tackle Johnathan Sullivan (the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft) and linebacking stars Boss Bailey and Tony Gilbert.

Most of Georgia's big names -- Thomas Davis, David Pollack, Sean Jones -- are still on the defensive side. The offense has been in a rebuilding mode, with five new starters on the line, a revolving door at tailback and an injury plagued receiving corps.

"I like to attack and score a lot of points," Richt said. "When we're throwing and catching the ball well, I enjoy that part of the game. But we've had some issues with injuries, and we haven't always been able to throw and catch it the way we want."

The Richt creed was on full display last week in a critical game against Tennessee.

Jones provided the turning point on the final play of the first half, scooping up a fumble and returning it 92 yards for a touchdown that gave Georgia a 20-7 lead. Then, it was time to pound the Volunteers into submission.

In the second half, the Bulldogs ran 27 times for 146 yards; they threw only nine passes. The result: a 41-14 victory that vaulted Georgia back into the national championship race.

"We're doing what we can to win the game," Richt said. "We're not necessarily worried about doing it with more style points."

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index