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Sloppy Georgia looks to fine-tune vs. Tennessee Tech

Photo by Wade Payne

Photo by Wade Payne

ATHENS -- Mark Richt says the ball simply has not bounced Georgia's way this season.

Georgia ranks 119th of 120 FBS teams in turnover margin. Through eight games, the Bulldogs have recovered only one of their opponents' 10 fumbles. They've lost eight of their 14 fumbles.

Georgia (4-4) will try to solve its turnover problem as it plays FCS opponent Tennessee Tech (5-3) today.

Richt said his players are trying to recover the fumbles. He said game film proves the balls usually fall closer to opposing players.

It's enough to drive a coach crazy -- and knock a team out of Southeastern Conference contention. Last week's 41-17 loss to Florida left Georgia 3-3 in the SEC.

"Why is the ball bouncing that way? I don't know," Richt said. "... I've studied that film, and for whatever reason, when the ball is on the ground it ends up closer to one of their guys than our guys. Why's that happening? I don't know. It's just happening, but that's football.

"But I do think that if we did a better job in that area who knows what the record would be today, so that's definitely a big issue."

Even Miami of Ohio, the only team to rank below Georgia's minus-15 turnover margin, has recovered three fumbles -- two more than Georgia.

Opponents have scored 88 points off Georgia's 21 turnovers. The Bulldogs have scored only 21 points after forcing six turnovers.

Defensive tackle Kade Weston said he hopes the bad bounces will even out in the team's final four regular-season games.

"Hopefully it will but it's not a round ball so there's no telling where the ball is going to bounce when it comes out," Weston said. "When you look at it you say 'Why couldn't the ball bounce this way?' There's not too much you can do about it."

The turnover deficit grew last week when quarterbacks Joe Cox and Logan Gray combined to throw four interceptions, leaving the Bulldogs with a minus-four turnover margin in the lopsided loss to the Gators. Neither team lost a fumble.

Cox has 15 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Richt considered benching the senior early this week before announcing the coaching staff's unanimous decision to stick with Cox.

Even so, Richt said he plans to play Gray for at least one series against the Golden Eagles of the Ohio Valley Conference.

Richt hasn't given in to calls from some fans to turn the offense over to freshman quarterback Aaron Murray and begin playing for 2010.

"I can't do that," Richt said. "I can't do that to our seniors. We tell our guys to finish the drill. We tell our guys to never quit. If we made that move with a young guy, I'd have the confidence that I could say in all honesty that he gives us the best chance to win right now. Because we couldn't come to that conclusion, we went with the guy that gives us the best chance to win right now.

"If we made a move and say we are playing for next year, in my mind, we've given up on the season, we've quit. We don't quit at Georgia, and we don't teach our guys to quit."

Richt announced one significant lineup change. Caleb King will start at tailback ahead of Washaun Ealey, who led Georgia with 70 yards rushing against Florida. Richt said Ealey struggled in pass-blocking against the Gators.

Watson Brown's Tennessee Tech team is 4-2 in the OVC, including wins over in-state rivals Tennessee State, Tennessee-Martin and Austin Peay.

Brown has previous experience at Sanford Stadium as the coach at Vanderbilt and Alabama-Birmingham. He acknowledges the challenge is greater with his Tennessee Tech team, which already has a 49-7 loss at Kansas State this season.

"Anytime you play these games ... you want to see your team play good and make these top Division I teams beat you," Brown said. "That's what we hope we can do. They are very talented and they're better than us. For us to have to have any chance to play with them we'll have to play really, really well."

Watson said his players won't mind being big underdogs.

"Our coaches may not look as forward to it as the kids do," Brown said. "The kids love these things.

"I don't think I'll have any problem getting them to play hard or be excited about going to Athens. It's a thrill for the kids to be able to do this. If you get out of these games without injuries, I think you do get a lot out of it. For our kids this will be something they never forget."