Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Georgia coach Mark Richt said back in August that senior quarterback Joe Cox was the least of his concerns going into this season.
Now that the Bulldogs’ season appears to be headed down a path nobody in Athens is happy about, Richt is refusing to pull the plug on Cox.
“It was unanimous among our staff that Joe gives us the best chance to win, and that’s where our focus needs to be,” Richt said in a statement Monday. “There’s still a lot of football left this season. We tell our players to finish the drill, and were are committed to doing that this week and each week the remainder of the season.”
In other words, Cox is hardly the root of everything wrong with Georgia’s program right now.
He’s just a part of the problem.
The fifth-year senior, who had patiently waited his turn to lead this offense, threw three interceptions last Saturday in Georgia’s 41-17 loss to Florida. He’s now thrown an SEC-high 12 interceptions for the season.
There’s no doubt in watching Cox play now for eight games that he’s limited, and when your quarterback is limited, so is your offense.
Richt said the Bulldogs do plan to play sophomore quarterback Logan Gray some against Tennessee Tech this weekend. And then come three games that will make the difference in this season being somewhat salvageable and it being a total disaster.
The Bulldogs (4-4, 3-3) get Auburn and Kentucky at home before facing Georgia Tech in Atlanta to end the regular season.
A 6-6 finish would put Mark Richt on serious hot-seat alert heading into next season, although there’s nobody at Georgia who counts who thinks he’s in any kind of trouble this season.
Richt will almost certainly have to make changes on his staff at season’s end, though, which could mean parting ways with some guys he’s been with for a long time.
Whatever happens, dumping most of the blame on Cox is unfair. The Georgia staff knew exactly what he was and wasn’t capable of coming into this season. If either of the true freshmen -- Aaron Murray or Zach Mettenberger -- were any better at this point, they would have already been in there. Remember, they both went through the spring.
And the truth is that not a lot of guys offensively (other than A.J. Green) have played well around Cox. The running game has been stagnant all season, and the offensive line hasn’t lived up to its preseason billing.
The defensive side of the equation has been the most troubling to Georgia fans. There’s talent on that side of the ball, the kind of talent you’ll see in the NFL down the road.
Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez has a proven track record, too, as a defensive coach. But for whatever reason, it just hasn’t been a good fit.
When you go a stretch of 17 games and give up 37 or more points in nine of those game (at a place like Georgia) there are going to be changes.
The only dilemma is how many changes.
Whatever Richt decides, he’s a smart enough guy and has been around this league long enough to know that the program needs some find-tuning.
Otherwise, the gap between Georgia and Florida is only going to grow wider.