ATHENS — To outside observers, North Texas presents a break in a brutal September stretch for Georgia that’s already included games against Clemson and South Carolina and will conclude with a Sept. 28 matchup against LSU.
But Bulldogs coach Mark Richt looks at a North Texas team that’s off to a 2-1 start and starts nine upperclassmen (juniors or seniors) on offense and 10 on defense.
“I’m very impressed with what I see on film,” Richt said.
North Texas is in its third season under head coach Dan McCarney, who has familiarity with college football on a big state. McCarney was a head coach at Iowa State from 1996-2006, then served as a defensive line coach at Florida from 2007-10 before taking the North Texas job. In 2008, McCarney was on a Florida coaching staff that won a BCS title.
“I see a team that is very well-coached,” Richt said. “I know Coach McCarney has had the opportunity to coach on a national championship team with Coach (Urban) Meyer at Florida. He’s been a head coach for many years and has had a lot of success. I think they are believing and playing hard and they’ll be ready for a big game (today).”
Offensively, Georgia has been terrific in the early going, scoring 38 points and averaging 540.5 yards per game.
On the other side of the ball, Georgia (1-1, 1-0 SEC) will look to improve a defense that ranks 13th in the SEC in yards allowed per game (460.5) and points per game (34.0).
“We’ve got a long way to go if we want to win the national championship and compete for the SEC title,” junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “We’ve just got to keep working.”
Richt said he doesn’t anticipate his team will be looking ahead to LSU or rusty coming off the bye week.
“I don’t see a problem with our guys being motivated right now,” Richt said. “You can gauge how they work in practice, and for whatever reason, I don’t know what their motivation is but they’re practicing hard. They’re practicing with a lot of energy.”
The Mean Green battled back from a 27-9 second-quarter deficit to earn a 34-27 win over Ball State last week behind a pounding running attack that churned out 231 yards.
Quarterback Derek Thompson is part of that running game and led North Texas to 1,395 yards of total offense — the most for the school in its first three games since 1951.
The Mean Green are getting plenty of help from their defense, which forced 11 turnovers in the first three contests.
The Bulldogs remade much of their defense in the offseason and believe they once again can return to an elite level on that side of the ball.
“A lot of it is just fundamentally doing a better job of taking better angles as we tackle,” Richt said, “wrapping up better and hustling to the ball better.”
While the defense gets settled, the offense has the ability to keep the team in the win column behind Murray, who threw for four touchdowns in a 41-30 victory over South Carolina on Sept. 7, and running back Todd Gurley.