Mark Richt Has Chance to Prove Himself Against Gators

Josh RutledgeCorrespondent IOctober 19, 2009

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Head coach Mark Richt of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrates after a blocked extra point attempt by the South Carolina Gamecocks at Sanford Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Mark Richt has a golden opportunity in front of him.

Never in his nine-year tenure as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs has Richt faced more criticism than he has in 2009. The Bulldogs are 4-3, two weeks removed from their most embarrassing loss of the past decade.

In just two more weeks, however, Richt and the Bulldogs take on the No. 1 Florida Gators. With as poorly as Georgia has played this year, this doesn't seem like the best time for Richt to be playing one of the top teams in the country.

But it is. This is the perfect time.

With an extra week of preparation, Richt has a chance to prove his critics wrong, and the best part is that Georgia doesn't necessarily have to beat Florida. No one, least of all critics of Mark Richt, are expecting Georgia to beat Florida.

Rather, the only thing Georgia fans want to see is the team play with some semblance of a game-plan. They want to see Georgia come up with a plan that exploits Florida's weaknesses. They want to see Richt and the coaching staff use players in a way that boosts that player's strengths while hiding his weaknesses.

If Georgia is able to play tough against Florida, then Richt will go a long way in winning back the support of the fan base. There will still be a lot of work remaining, but this is how coaches survive in tough leagues like the SEC. You match up with the best.

Richt is facing a lot of heat because Georgia fans are jealous of the success of teams like Florida and Alabama. They see Urban Meyer manhandle opponents, and they want a coach like that. They see Nick Saban out-coach an opponent, and they want a coach like that.

Richt has been that kind of coach in the past. He out-coached Philip Fulmer. He out-coached Tommy Tuberville. He even out-coached Nick Saban at one point. But he hasn't out-coached someone in a long, long time.

The last time Georgia really out-planned an opponent was the 2007 Sugar Bowl against Hawaii. Leading up to the game, people said the key to beating Hawaii was getting pressure on quarterback Colt Brennan. But those same people said getting pressure on Brennan would be difficult because he had such a quick release on his throw.

On the field, Georgia proved everyone wrong. Instead of blitzing Brennan, Georgia only rushed four defensive linemen. Everyone else dropped back into coverage.

But those four defensive linemen dominated the Hawaii offensive line. Hawaii receivers had no room to move, and Brennan was helpless in the backfield. There was nowhere to throw, and if there was, he had only several seconds to do it.

In short, Georgia had a plan. They had a lot of time to prepare for that game. They watched film, and they realized that Hawaii couldn't block Georgia's pass rush, even if there were only a handful of players rushing Brennan. The result was that Georgia dominated Hawaii and won the Sugar Bowl.

In the last several seasons, however, Georgia has been on the receiving end of similar plans. Teams like Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee have manipulated Georgia and come away with big wins.

Now, Richt has a chance to get things straightened out again. All the noise coming from his critics is the sound of people calling him out, questioning his ability to coach against the best coaches in the league.

Georgia isn't a better team than Florida. The Gators are No. 1 for a reason, and Georgia is 4-3 for a reason.

But Georgia does have a really talented team, a team that should be good enough to hold their own against anyone in the country.

It's up to Richt to fill in the gaps.