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The Mark Richt Record: A Look at the First Seven Seasons (Part II)

Since the Bulldogs' 2007 season is done, I thought now would be an appropriate time to pause and look back at the first seven years of the Mark Richt era. I began by examining Coach Richt's record in terms of championships and bowl games. In our second installment, we will look at Coach Richt's record against particular opponents.

As before, we will be comparing Coach Richt's first seven seasons on the Sanford Stadium sideline to the first seven seasons of the five of his predecessors whose coaching careers lasted at least that long. We will be looking at a dozen of the Red and Black's most frequent or most significant rivals, arranged in something resembling their order of importance.

v. Vanderbilt:
W.A. Cunningham: 0-2
Harry Mehre: 1-1
Wally Butts: 0-0
Vince Dooley: 5-0
Ray Goff: 5-2
Mark Richt: 6-1

Yeah, all right, let's get this debacle out of the way right away. I wish I could say Coach Richt was 7-0 against the Commodores, but, while he doesn't have Coach Dooley's unblemished ledger against Vandy---Vince won his first seven series meetings with the 'Dores before finally falling to the Commies in 1973---he has enjoyed greater success against Vanderbilt than any other Georgia head coach except the athletic director who hired him, and that ain't bad.
v. Arkansas:
Cunningham: 0-0
Mehre: 0-0
Butts: 0-0
Dooley: 0-1
Goff: 2-1
Richt: 4-0

The Bulldogs seldom played the Razorbacks prior to Arkansas's arrival in the S.E.C. West in 1992. Prior to that point, in fact, the 'Dawgs and the Hogs met only in bowl games, squaring off in the Cotton, Independence, Liberty, and Sugar Bowls between the 1968 and 1991 campaigns.

Somewhere along the way, we managed to lose to this guy when Arkansas won in Sanford Stadium in 1993.

The series with Arkansas provides a small sample size of only eleven games, all of which were played in my lifetime, but half of Georgia's eight victories over the Razorbacks, and none of the Bulldogs' three losses to the Hogs, came on Coach Richt's watch.

v. Kentucky:
Cunningham: 0-0
Mehre: 0-0
Butts: 3-1-1
Dooley: 6-1
Goff: 6-1
Richt: 6-1

There is nothing particularly noteworthy about Coach Richt's performance against the Wildcats. His 6-1 record against Kentucky is identical to the ledgers compiled against the 'Cats by Coach Dooley and Coach Goff in their first seven years on the Sanford Stadium sideline and every Georgia coach who has faced U.K. multiple times early in his career has lost to the Bluegrass State Felines exactly once. Coach Richt's success against Kentucky has been par for the course.
v. Ole Miss:
Cunningham: 0-0
Mehre: 0-0
Butts: 1-1-1
Dooley: 2-3
Goff: 3-4
Richt: 4-0

We in Bulldog Nation tend to think of the Rebels as our kid brothers . . . like Georgia Tech, if Georgia Tech (a) had a much prettier campus, (b) had much prettier women, and (c) were located in the South (or at least acted like it). While rarely considered a Georgia rival, Mississippi appeared on the Red and Black's slate every year from 1966 through 2002, and, during that period, the 'Dawgs at one point reeled off a dozen straight victories over the Rebs.

In light of that historic success, and especially in light of the current sorry state of the football program at the smallest public university in the S.E.C., it is difficult to remember that Ole Miss typically has been a challenge for Georgia. The Bulldogs did not claim their first victory over the Rebels in Oxford until 1979 and, after the first nine series meetings, Mississippi held a 5-3-1 advantage over the 'Dawgs. From 1989 to 1999, seven of eleven showdowns between the two teams were settled by margins of eight or fewer points.

Coach Richt has outperformed the norm against the Rebels. Of the four Georgia coaches to have faced Ole Miss multiple times in their first seven years, Mark Richt is the only one who has a winning record against the Rebs, against whom he is undefeated. Moreover, three of his four victories over Mississippi have been by such convincing margins as 35-15, 31-17, and 45-17.

v. L.S.U.:
Cunningham: 0-0
Mehre: 0-1
Butts: 0-4
Dooley: 0-0
Goff: 1-1
Richt: 2-2

Although the Bulldogs and the Bayou Bengals met regularly in the 1940s and early '50s, clashes between the 21st century's two most successful S.E.C. programs have been infrequent in recent years, as Georgia and Louisiana State met on the gridiron just six times between 1954 and 1997.

The historically strong nature of the L.S.U. program is attested to by the fact that no Red and Black coach has posted a record above .500 against the Fighting Tigers during the first seven years of his tenure in Athens. Coach Richt's 2-2 record against Louisiana State---compiled during a period in which the Bayou Bengals went 33-6 over a three-season span---represents a legitimate accomplishment against one of the country's premiere programs.

v. Alabama:
Cunningham: 5-0
Mehre: 1-3
Butts: 2-2
Dooley: 1-1
Goff: 1-3
Richt: 3-0

Coach Richt is 2-0 against the Tide in Tuscaloosa; Georgia previously had gone 0-7 against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Although the Bulldogs' series with the Red Elephants ceased being an annual affair after 1965, Coach Richt has enjoyed as much success against 'Bama as any of his predecessors, posting a perfect record against the Crimson Tide in three series meetings by beating Dennis Franchione's team in 2002, Mike Shula's squad in 2003, and Nick Saban's club in 2007.
v. South Carolina:
Cunningham: 1-0
Mehre: 0-0
Butts: 3-0
Dooley: 5-0-1
Goff: 3-2
Richt: 5-2

On the one hand, it is troubling that Coach Richt has lost to the Gamecocks as many times in his first seven seasons as Coach Goff did; on the other hand, it is heartening that Coach Richt has beaten the Gamecocks as many times in his first seven seasons as Coach Dooley did.

Inexperience doomed the 'Dawgs in each of Coach Richt's losses to the Palmetto State Poultry. In 2001, Coach Richt sustained his first setback in just his second game as Georgia's head coach, falling to Lou Holtz's squad by a 14-9 margin. (At first blush, that outcome appeared to be a bad omen. However, Coach Richt is today one of only five S.E.C. coaches to have posted four consecutive ten-win seasons. Two of the other four endured similar results in their respective league openers: Vince Dooley's first conference game as the head coach at Georgia in 1964 ended in a 31-3 defeat and Bear Bryant's initial S.E.C. outing as the head coach at Alabama in 1958 produced a 13-3 loss.)

In 2007, it was the newness of Coach Richt's players, particularly those along the offensive line, that did in the Red and Black in a game strikingly similar to the one played six years earlier, as Georgia once again failed to score a touchdown against South Carolina in a night game at home en route to a 16-12 defeat.

To make matters worse, they've lost four straight conference games, so it wasn't like they were some big, powerful team.

In the intervening five years, though, the Bulldogs were as dominant as they historically have been against the decidedly lesser program from Columbia, winning a series of competitive games to claim the Red and Black's longest winning streak over the Gamecocks since taking ten in a row from 1966 to 1977.

Frankly, the two losses bug me way more than they should, but I'm not going to gripe too loudly about a 5-2 record against an Eastern Division rival, even if that rival happens to have a ratio of arrogant smack talk to actual achievement so unfavorable that South Carolina essentially qualifies as Georgia Tech without the academic standards.

v. Clemson:
Cunningham: 5-1-1
Mehre: 1-0
Butts: 2-0
Dooley: 6-0
Goff: 3-1
Richt: 2-0

In one respect, this rivalry ain't what it used to be. After facing one another in all but two of the seasons from 1962 to 1987, Georgia and Clemson have squared off just six times since. On the other hand, the 'Dawgs dominated the series for seven decades, going 28-4-3 against the Tigers from 1907 to 1976, but the Fort Hill Felines began asserting themselves in 1977, when they started a 6-5-1 run over the Classic City Canines that lasted through 1990.

Matters have taken a turn for the better since.

Although Coach Richt has faced Georgia's rivals from Lake Hartwell only twice, he has beaten them both times, matching Coach Butts's record against the Tigers at the same point in his career. Coach Richt gets extra credit for scoring 30 or more points in both of his series meetings with bowl-bound Clemson squads.

v. Tennessee:
Cunningham: 1-0
Mehre: 0-0
Butts: 0-0
Dooley: 0-1-1
Goff: 0-5
Richt: 4-3

Obviously, Coach Richt's ledger against the Volunteers looked a lot better a couple of years ago than it does at the moment. Coach Richt won his first three meetings with the Big Orange, was undefeated in his first three visits to Neyland Stadium, and opened his career against the Vols with a program-changing victory.

The keys to winning on the road in the S.E.C. are calm confidence, bold play-calling, and wearing the proper footgear with which to step on a fellow's face and break his nose.

Losses in 2004, 2006, and 2007---all of which were embarrassments to varying degrees, the last of them so much so that I wrote a country song about it---sullied that fine record, yet four wins over Tennessee represent no small achievement historically, as attested to by the ledgers of Coach Richt's predecessors. Considering the respective trajectories of a Georgia team that returns mostly intact after a dominant late-season run and a Tennessee team that travels to Athens without either Erik Ainge or David Cutcliffe, I suspect we will see Coach Richt return to form against the Vols beginning next autumn.

v. Georgia Tech:
Cunningham: 4-2-1
Mehre: 5-1-1
Butts: 4-3
Dooley: 5-2
Goff: 5-2
Richt: 7-0

Coach Richt, Bulldog Nation deems your perfection against Tech to be acceptable. Good job.
v. Auburn:
Cunningham: 1-4-2
Mehre: 5-2
Butts: 4-2
Dooley: 4-3
Goff: 2-4-1
Richt: 4-3

I hate Auburn.

The Plainsmen are Georgia's oldest rival and, since 1898, it literally has taken a world war to keep these two teams from squaring off on the gridiron. Auburn leads the all-time series 53-50-8, so it is not surprising to see that so many Red and Black head coaches have struggled with the War Eagle.

Obviously, Coach Richt has enjoyed substantially more success against the Tigers than Coach Cunningham or Coach Goff did. Coach Richt's record against Auburn likewise bears a close resemblance to those ledgers compiled by Coach Mehre, Coach Butts, and Coach Dooley. Not all nearly identical won-lost records are created equal, however.

From 1928 to 1934, when Harry Mehre was in the process of going 5-2 against the Plainsmen, Auburn fielded five teams that finished at or below .500, posting records of 1-8 in 1928, 2-7 in 1929, 3-7 in 1930, and 2-8 in 1934 under the direction of four different coaches.

I hate Auburn.

From 1939 to 1945, when Wally Butts was in the process of going 4-2 against the Plainsmen, Auburn hovered around .500 year in and year out, never finishing a season with more than six wins. Even Vince Dooley caught a bit of a break when he became the Bulldogs' head coach, as Shug Jordan's Tigers went into a brief downcycle, in which the War Eagle went 21-19-1 and made only one bowl appearance between 1964 and 1967.

Mark Richt operated from no such advantage. The first seven Auburn squads he faced won seven, nine, eight, 13, nine, eleven, and nine games, respectively, and attended bowl games played on New Year's Eve three times and on New Year's Day or later four times. Despite facing the Tigers at their zenith, Coach Richt has managed to win four of his last six meetings with the Plainsmen since learning his lesson in a narrow loss to Auburn in his first season.

Despite maddening outcomes in 2001 and in 2005, Coach Richt has come out on top against the Bulldogs' oldest rival more often than not, claiming his first victory on the Plains with a play formally known as "70-X-Takeoff" but more accurately described as this generation's Buck-Belue-to-Lindsay-Scott. The last two Georgia-Auburn games have been glorious beatdowns by the Bulldogs that gave the Classic City Canines their best back-to-back blowouts over the Tigers since the 1940s.

Simply stated, no other Georgia coach has fared as well against War Eagle units this good in his first seven years as Coach Richt.

I hate Auburn.

v. Florida:
Cunningham: 2-0
Mehre: 4-2-1
Butts: 5-1
Dooley: 3-3-1
Goff: 1-6
Richt: 2-5

This is the one regular Georgia opponent against whom Coach Richt's record earns him a grade of "needs improvement." Prior to 1990, the Red and Black routinely dominated the Gators and (as Coach Dooley's .500 record in Jacksonville in the first seven years of his career attests) typically did no worse than splitting series meetings with the Saurians.

While Ray Goff's poor coaching helped to keep the Bulldogs winless in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party during the early Steve Spurrier years---would any other major college coach have been unable to beat the 1992 Florida team with the 1992 Georgia team?---the fact is that, during the Gators' seven-game winning streak from 1990 to 1996, the Orange and Blue were a national power, regularly winning conference crowns and often contending for national honors.

After Georgia's victory in Jacksonville in 1997, though, the playing field was leveled, even if the results seldom differed. Clearly, the Classic City Canines closed the gap, both in the coaching divide and in the talent differential, yet psychological factors prevented the 'Dawgs from finishing the drill against Florida. How else can we explain the fact that Ron Zook was 2-1 against the Red and Black?

For a myriad of reasons, no aspect of Mark Richt's tenure in Athens was more maddening than the fact that, after six years on the job, despite being a vastly superior coach fielding far more evenly matched Bulldog teams to take on Florida units which, while still powerful, were far from the dominant forces they had been under the Evil Genius, Mark Richt had the same 1-5 record against the Gators that Ray Goff had at the same point.

Then this happened:

The short-term consequence of this maneuver was that the 'Dawgs were forced to kick off from their own eight yard line. The intermediate-term consequence of Coach Richt's confidence-building tactic was that, in a flash, the Red and Black went from being losers of 15 of the last 17 series meetings to being winners of two of the last four clashes with the Gators. The long-term consequences are yet to be determined, but I'd be willing to bet that Georgia's won-lost record by the St. John's River will be a lot better over the course of the next decade than it was over the two previous decades.

Overall, Bulldog Nation has to be pretty pleased with Mark Richt's first seven seasons in Athens. With confidence high riding into 2008, the next question to ask is, "Where do we go from here?" In our next installment, we'll be taking a look at how Coach Richt's predecessors fared in their eighth, ninth, and tenth seasons, in order to see what history he is up against as he looks forward to what promises to be a very special season for the Red and Black.

Go 'Dawgs!