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The way Mark Richt put it, the Michigan Wolverines did him a great favor Saturday in their game against Akron.
Michigan was a heavy favorite against the Akron Zips led by former Auburn coach Terry Bowden, but it took a touchdown with 2:49 left by the Wolverines to pull out a 28-24 win over their Mid-American Conference foe.
Coming off Saturday's bye week, the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (1-1) are similarly heavy favorites going into their upcoming against North Texas (2-1) of Conference USA, but Richt knows that these days, nothing can ever be taken for granted.
Ball State probably thought they had last Saturday's game against North Texas well in hand after leading 20-3 going into the second quarter. That is, until the Mean Green scored 31 of the next 38 points to post a 34-27 win.
"I think everyone just has to understand let's focus very, very hard on improving, let's focus very had on our game plan, then line up and get ready to play ball," Richt said in Sunday's weekly teleconference with reporters. "Even their game last week, they get down against a very good team, and come roaring back and win the game in the second half. They had a very close game against Ohio (27-21 loss), so they're going to be a challenge for us. We need the fan base to get ready, we need the players to get ready and the coaches to get ready so we can take care of business."
Richt doesn't believe keeping his players focused will be an issue.
"Again, you watch your film of the game before, you remember what happened at Clemson, you remember the things that we need to improve on and hopefully we'll practice in such a way that will create better habits as we go along," Richt said. "We've got a long way to go in a lot of areas. We're still fighting hard to find out how good a team we can possibly become. The season's so young and there's a lot of guys that know there's a lot of things they've got to improve on as an individual as we do as a team."
Especially, on the defensive side.
Although the Bulldogs are coming off games against two very talented offenses with veteran quarterbacks, there's a number of defensive issues Richt said he hopes to start seeing corrected.
"We've got to become better tacklers, we've got to communicate better in the back end, we've got to do a better job of pressuring the quarterback, there's just a lot of things we've got to get better at defensively, individually and collectively so that's hopefully what we're going to get done," Richt said. "As far as competing, if you ever get in the game, that's the best chance to show Coach that you belong. You can show your coach that you deserve more playing time or a starting position. Hopefully, those guys will get an opportunity to do that."
Richt said the Mean Green have the personnel to give his defense some problems.
In three games, quarterback Derek Thompson has completed 73 of 103 passes for 818 yards and five touchdowns, while running back Brandin Byrd is the team's leading rusher with 35 carries for 163 yards and two scores.
North Texas also returns its top three receivers from last year and three of its starting offensive linemen.
"I was very impressed with their quarterback. He's not a giant guy, but he's a great competitor. He runs the ball better than you think, throws it well, he's a guy that really seems like he's got a great feel for the game. Byrd's a great back, their top three receivers are playing well and have three of their five linemen back. I think they play really solid football all the way around."
Saturday's 12:21 start (SEC Network) will be the third different kickoff in as many games for the Bulldogs.
Richt admitted the early starts does make time management an issue.
"We've got a history the last few years of being able to play at different times, so all we have to do is pull out what we did the last time it was this time frame. We don't have to reinvent the wheel on those types of starts," he said. "Some of the challenges for the early game is the fact the coaches won't have that extra meeting time with our players. If we have a 4 p.m. game or an 8 p.m. game our staff will actually go out to where our players stay, spend time meeting with them, but since it's going to be an early start they'll be eating breakfast and basically jumping on the bus to come back to the Butts-Mehre and get ready to go."
NOTES: Richt said that left tackle Kenarious Gates (ankle) and running back Keith Marshall (knee) will both be able to play against the Mean Green. Tight end Jay Rome (ankle) and wide receiver Jonathon Rumph (hamstring) are also expected to be ready to go after missing the last game against South Carolina. Georgia rose a spot to No. 9 in the Associated Press Top 25 but stayed at No. 10 in the USA Today/Coaches Top 25.
With no game on Saturday, Richt said he took the time to get some rare R and R. "I don't know what the players did, hopefully they got some good rest," Richt said. "My wife and I took a day at the lake, we went Friday, spent the night, came back Saturday, watched some football most of the rest of the day. Today has been about as a lazy a day as you can hope for this time of the year."
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