ATHENS, Ga. – The sunny weather of the preseason has been replaced the past two days on UGA’s campus by stormy, overcast skies and rainy conditions.
Orson Charles and Aron White each asked Tuesday for support from disgruntled UGA fans. Said White: "Hopefully, the fans will just let us focus this week and really just be behind us, because that’s what we need.”
Call it fitting for a football program now at a clear and gloomy crossroads.
For Georgia, the budding optimism of the past few months vanished with Saturday night’s 35-21 defeat to fifth-ranked Boise State. On the heels of last year’s 6-7 record, the poor result has quickly refreshed questions about Mark Richt’s job security, which was to be expected, and sent new waves of criticism directly from discouraged fans to Bulldogs players, which maybe wasn’t so expected.
Multiple Georgia players entered practice this week with stories of negative messages from fans, sent in a variety of ways after Saturday night’s defeat.
“It’s hard not to get caught up in it when people are sending you messages every day and writing on your (Facebook) wall and people getting your phone number and texting you and stuff,” tight end Aron White said Tuesday. “It’s like, ‘I don’t know you, man. Who are you?’ … Hopefully, the fans will just let us focus this week and really just be behind us, because that’s what we need.”
The past few days, in this way, have resembled a punch in the gut for a team that stressed positive energy so much during this past offseason, going so far as to playfully label “energy vampires” out of those whose attitudes maybe weren’t “on the bus.”
“I wouldn’t say the positive energy has left,” defensive end Abry Jones said Tuesday. “As soon as the clock hit zero and we saw that we lost, it probably felt like that. But we went in the locker room and heard Coach Richt talk and some of the seniors stood up and talked to us and told us what we’re trying to accomplish this year and told us how we need to stay focused, it pretty much reassured everybody that we’re not going to be down on ourselves and have a repeat of last season.”
Nonetheless, the mood has become different, at least outside the walls of the Butts-Mehre building.
White said he won’t bring football discussion on Twitter this week in an attempt to “stay positive.” That matches linebacker Christian Robinson’s plan to leave Twitter this week after receiving “some nasty things” from fans after the game.
Mark Richt was asked twice during Tuesday's weekly press conference about the importance of Saturday's South Carolina game as it relates to his own job security.
For what it's worth, other players said the response wasn’t that bad and they weren’t terribly affected.
“It’s a little disheartening,” quarterback Aaron Murray said, “but for every bad message there were 30-40 good messages on Twitter. The fans are awesome. It’s just the ones that are negative are always the loudest ones. But the majority of them were great. … I know that when we get out there on Saturday, there’s going to be 92,000 fans cheering us on and going crazy. I’m not too stressed about it.”
In White’s words, “I wouldn’t call it hate, just frustration.”
“But it’s to be expected,” White said. “They care about the team just like we do. Obviously, they’re going to have something to say. and we have to live with that. … You start worrying about everything else, like ‘Oh, is Coach going to lose his job? Is this or that going to happen? What’s everybody going to say about us after the game? Is this going to start the slide like we did at the beginning of last season?’
“You start worrying about stuff like that and you lose focus. Right now, we need to be completely focused. We have a great team coming in to play us.”
The national and local media has already started calling Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. visit from No. 12 South Carolina (1-0) a must-win game for Georgia (0-1) and for Richt. Whether or not that's true, the perception bled into Tuesday's weekly press conference for Richt.
The Bulldogs’ coach showed up wearing two bracelets that have been common around Georgia’s team this offseason. One said “No one fights alone,” and another stresses “NO COMPLAINING.”
Richt was asked twice about the pivotal nature of Saturday’s game for him, responding the first time with simply, “I view it as a very important game.”
Asked later “Is this a must-win game for you?” Richt replied, “Didn’t I just say it’s a really important game. I think it’s a really important game. You want to ask me again? Because I’ll give you the same answer.”
“I definitely owe Coach Richt a lot,” White said. “He’s done some amazing things since he’s been here at Georgia, and I feel like a lot of people have been trying to hold him to certain standard because he had a lot of success early on. And rightfully so. We’re supposed to win at Georgia, but at the same time, I feel like we’re defending Coach Richt just like he defends us, and we’re playing for him just like he’s coaching for us. We’re behind him 100 percent. … We’re pulling for him. We’re playing for him. We’re doing everything we can.”
Addressing the fans, White adds, “Hopefully, they don’t give up faith, because we’re not giving up faith.”
In the same manner, tight end Orson Charles asked for continued support while pledging that “We’re going to put smiles on everybody’s face. We just need a little time.”
“Hopefully, this game will definitely change this whole atmosphere around Georgia,” Charles said. “When things are going right, everybody is going to jump on board. When things are going wrong, that’s when things just start breaking down. I just pray the fans stay behind us. Yeah, we let them down the first game, but I don’t see us letting them down for the rest of the season. We’ve just got to bounce back from this loss and go out there and have fun.”