ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt did his best Les Miles routine in Saturday's 20-12 win against Tennessee -- a change that must have shocked the Georgia fans who booed the Bulldogs coach when he played it safe the week prior.
In reality, Richt's coaching tactics will never be confused with those of Miles, LSU's coach whose go-for-broke style often has the Tigers going for it on fourth down. But Richt broke away from his conservative leanings against Tennessee -- and he credited his coaching staff for assembling a solid plan that helped the Bulldogs go 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions.
"This week we did a very good job of putting a plan together," Richt said. "I had a lot more confidence in what the offensive staff had put together. So I was more decisive in what to do because I had more faith in what we were doing and how we were going about it."
The plan was an issue a week earlier against Mississippi State, when Richt's decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-inches at State's 5-yard line was met with a chorus of boos at Sanford Stadium. The kick -- which failed after a botched snap -- would have put the Bulldogs ahead 24-3. Richt also did not like the staff's situational plan and was particularly displeased with the team's previous results on short-yardage plays.
"If you remember Boise State, we go for it on fourth-and-short and don't make it," Richt said. "So I really wasn't in the mood to go for it last week."
All of Georgia's fourth-down conversions against Tennessee came on Isaiah Crowell runs in the first quarter -- including two on the opening drive. The Bulldogs surprised the Volunteers when Crowell ran left with a toss on fourth-and-1 at the Georgia 40, picking up 11 yards in the process. The freshman later picked up 3 yards on fourth-and-1 at the Tennessee 23 to set up an eventual Blair Walsh field goal.
The key conversions helped Georgia sustain a 15-play drive -- keeping the ball away from Tennessee's explosive passing attack -- and set an early tone for the Bulldogs.
"It could bite you in the rear end, but it didn't," Richt said. "We sustained a long drive, a lot of time off the clock and then we got points off that first drive."
The Georgia-Tennessee game pitted the nation's top offense on third down against the second-best defense at preventing third-down conversions.
While Tennessee's offense seemed as if it would continue its superb conversion rate early in Saturday's game, Georgia's defense quickly got the better end of the matchup.
The Vols came in averaging an eye-popping 62 percent on third-down conversions and achieved first downs on each of their first three attempts Saturday. But Georgia nearly shut out the Vols on third down from that point, holding them to 1-for-10 the rest of the way.
"It was us realizing that if we wanted to win this game, we had to really crack down on everything they were getting in the first half," Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin said.
The numbers were particularly telling in the second half, as Georgia pulled away from a 6-all halftime tie to lead 20-6 until a late Tennessee touchdown. The Vols were 4-for-7 on third down at halftime, but 0-for-6 in the second half.
"I thought the second half we kind of came on and played the way we should play," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "We understood what was happening to us and did a solid job."
Crowell was visibly bothered by a wrist ailment, leaving the game at points after taking hits on the wrist.
"He's held onto the ball pretty well and that's a good indication of how bad it hurts," Richt said. "I know it hurts, but there's nothing that's broken in there. Sometimes there's a certain spot that might get hit and it's hurting pretty good and tender, and you go to the next game and you get whacked there again and it just lights it up again.
"You hope you can let it settle down enough during the week where you're back to zero again as far as pain, but sometimes when you have that nagging injury going into the game and you get hit in that same spot again, it's tough. But when you're holding onto the ball with that hand, you're probably going to take a shot there."
Richt said he regularly receives a flood of text messages from friends and family before and after football games, but Saturday's win against Tennessee -- his 100th as Georgia's coach -- brought a new volume of incoming messages.
"It was at least double because of this," he said.
And it was not just the usual message senders. Richt said he was pleased to hear from a number of players spanning his 10-plus seasons in Athens.
"Our former players have kind of chimed in, too -- guys I haven't heard from in a while, so that was kind of neat," he said.
David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.