In summer workouts, Georgia football players lifting weights were told to fight through and finish like it was the fourth quarter.
At the end of preseason practices in 11-on-11 drills, the scene was set: It’s the fourth quarter, now go make a play.
Everybody knew exactly why.
“We lost a lot of games by three and seven points,” center Ben Jones said. “If we would have made the play in the fourth quarter, we would have been the team that’s 10-3 instead of going 6-7.”
An offseason in which Georgia tried to make right what went wrong during its first losing season since 1996 is now complete.
A new season begins Saturday night against No. 5 Boise State in the Georgia Dome.
If the game is on the line in the fourth quarter, Georgia hopes its renewed emphasis under new strength and conditioning director Joe Tereshinski on closing out games will pay off.
Georgia scored more than its opponents in each of the first three quarters last season, but was outscored 92-68 in the final quarter and 3-0 in overtime in a loss to Florida.
“If you go back and look, there comes a time in the fourth quarter where you’ve got to stop them,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “When that happens, that’s what we’ve got to do. It doesn’t matter what’s happened before. It doesn’t matter if it’s 24-all or it’s 6-3. The situation in hand is we’ve got to get the ball back.”
Georgia’s mantra for years under coach Mark Richt was “Finish The Drill.”
The Bulldogs scored more fourth-quarter points than their opponents in each of Richt’s first eight seasons.
In 2010, the Bulldogs scored their fewest fourth-quarter total under Richt and gave up the most.
“The difference between really good teams and average teams are how well you finish,” said Richt, starting his 11th season. “Do you make plays, big plays, at the end of the game? That’s going to define us, really I think.”
Georgia lost all four of its games last season decided by seven or less and was within a touchdown in the fourth quarter in its other three losses.
“Nobody blew us out,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We didn’t finish any of those games. We didn’t win. There’s been a refocus and rededication on finishing thedrill and making sure that everybody’s ready to go and finish games.”
Quarterback Aaron Murray said the one thing he noticed from watching film was his feet weren’t set properly on his incompletions late in games.
“That might come down to conditioning, my legs being tired in the fourth quarter,” Murray said.
Now, he said, his “legs are in shape, ready to go a full four quarters. I think that will definitely will help my accuracy.”
Tereshsinki, who became strength coach last December when Dave Van Halanger was reassigned, declined an interview request for this story, but laid out his philosophy after taking the job.
“The whole culture that we’re going with is, we’re going to prepare this team for the fourth quarter,” Tereshinski said. “We’re going to press and challenge these kids every day to overcome.”
It wasn’t all about the fourth quarter. Georgia gave up its most points — 97 — in the second quarter.
And there’s more than just strength and conditioning that plays into it.
“Everybody’s got to reach deep down and play harder when the opportunity comes to make the play,” Bobo said. “You’ve got to make good calls in that situation.”
Confidence is a factor also, Grantham said.
“The more you win, the more confidence you get,” Grantham said. “I think conditioning and strength play a part of that, but I think we’re all creatures of habit. You’ve got to continue to fight and compete. As you win, I think you develop confidence, which can kind of springboards you.”
Safety Sanders Commings said players at the beginning of the summer did power lifts and power runs to help build up their lungs, become stronger and not fatigue as quick. Later in the summer, he said, they focused on a combination of long-distance running with work on quick twitch muscles.
“I definitely think we’ll be able to finish games this year,” Commings said.
Of course, nobody can be sure.
“If we don’t make those type of changes, you’re not going to have a shot,” said athletic director Greg McGarity, who watched the team’s 6:15 a.m. conditioning test to start the preseason. “The encouragement is that if you condition yourself for that then when the time comes at least you’re prepared for it and it’s not lip service. You’ve prepared all summer, so will it translate? I’m not sure, but at least it’s been a huge focus. … If anything, the mental part of it is going to be right.”
Defensive end Abry Jones has seen a better conditioned team during hot August practices.
“We’ve been able to see small effects of it,” Jones said. “I see a lot of guys still getting to it late in the practice, not wearing down as usual. I think it’ll really be good when we play the fourth quarter Saturday.”
Richt says he sees players bulked up and with better stamina. The proof will come in the games.
“You never know for sure what kind of condition they’re in,” Richt said. “You think they’re in good condition. We’ve had enough heat. We think we’ve run them enough, but until you go out there and play a game, we’re going to find out.”