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Turnover woes doom Bulldogs

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

ATHENS -- Rennie Curran has no answer for the statistic which has helped to sink Georgia's season:

Eleven games. One fumble recovery. Only one.

It was Sept. 19 when Curran, the Georgia linebacker, recovered an Arkansas fumble in the Bulldogs' 52-41 win. Curran can't believe that seven games later his play is still Georgia's only fumble recovery of the season.

"It's crazy when you think about how much work we put into this and how many hours we put into this," Curran says. "It's hard to believe we didn't get the results that we wanted."

Georgia has a minus-18 turnover margin to rank 119th -- next to last -- in the nation. The Bulldogs know they can't beat No. 7 Georgia Tech on Saturday night if the ugly turnover deficit continues to grow.

Georgia is last in the nation with only eight turnovers gained, including the one fumble recovery, in 11 games. Every other FBS team in the nation has forced at least 10 turnovers. The next-lowest total of fumbles recovered is three.

The seven interceptions by Georgia's defense seem like a respectable total when compared with the one fumble recovery. But only South Carolina, with five, has fewer interceptions among Southeastern Conference teams.

There has been more attention paid to Bulldogs' season-long problem with giveaways.

But the other side of Georgia's turnover deficit -- the shortage of takeaways -- also has hurt the Bulldogs (6-5).

Coach Mark Richt says he has studied the film of each of the 12 fumbles by Georgia's opponents and says he can't complain about his players' effort. The problem, Richt says, is the balls keep bouncing closer to the other team.

Georgia's season-long turnover problem was obvious last week when four second-half giveaways helped Kentucky rally from a 20-6 halftime deficit for a 34-27 win over the Bulldogs. Kentucky scored two touchdowns off the turnovers.

"It's tough to get past, but I think we're trying to move past it," said offensive tackle Clint Boling. "Going into the second half when we were up 20-6, a lot of us thought we could put the game away with the way we've been playing. A couple of turnovers really hurt. We're trying to move past it and move on to Tech and hopefully we'll be able to do that."

For a game and a half, it appeared Georgia had solved its turnover problem. It had no interceptions and no fumbles while picking off two passes in its 31-24 win over Auburn on Nov. 14. The Bulldogs then played a clean first half against Kentucky.

"When they don't beat themselves, they're a really good football team," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "Last Saturday night, they dragged Kentucky up and down the field ... but they had four turnovers in the second half. They lost the game, just like any other team in America would. No team can turn it over four times in one half and win the game."

The turning point in the Kentucky game came when freshman Branden Smith fumbled the kickoff to open the second half. The Wildcats took possession at the Georgia 14 and scored two plays later to cut the Bulldogs lead to one touchdown, setting the pace for the second half.

"To turn the two-score deficit into a one-score deficit in a matter of seconds sure gets the other team's juices flowing," Richt said.

Another freshman, tailback Washaun Ealey, fumbled a pitch from Joe Cox at the Kentucky 1 with 2:21 remaining. Cox threw two interceptions.

"We've just had a lot happen in a crazy way," Cox said. "Balls get batted up in the air, balls just coming out on the ground and at the completely wrong times. That's the worst deal, when you have a chance to win the game and a turnover just kills it.

"It happens, but it has happened to us too much this year and at completely wrong times."

Considering Georgia's problems holding onto the ball, why try a pitch so close to the goal line? Wouldn't a simple handoff be the safer play?

"No, it's just a toss sweep," Richt said. "We run it all the time, short yardage, goal line ... we run it all the time.

"We just had a young guy take a bad alignment and take a bad tract. ... I'm sure it has something to do with a guy being a true freshman. It's a play we've repped over and over and over in camp. It's not any riskier there than any other place on the field."

Penalties have been another constant problem, but Richt blamed the loss to Kentucky on turnovers.

"The turnover thing has never been like this," he said. "That's really the thing that did us in.

"It's definitely been frustrating, no doubt. ... If we don't turn it over and they don't turn it over, I believe we win the ballgame, but that's not what happened."