ATHENS, Ga. -- So focused are Georgia's coaches on this week's message that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo would offer only a "No comment" when asked about his favorite memory of competing in the Georgia-Florida series as a Bulldogs player in the 1990s.
Georgia snapped a seven-game losing streak against Steve Spurrier and the hated Gators in 1997, Bobo's senior season. But any discussion of that game would distract from the point Mark Richt's staff wants to make to its youth-filled roster.
The past doesn't matter. Georgia's 3-18 record against the Gators since 1990 will not be a factor when the teams meet this weekend. Last year's 34-31 overtime loss in Jacksonville won't affect Saturday's outcome, either.
"You can't worry about any of that stuff," Bobo told reporters after Tuesday's practice. "You can't worry about what they're saying, what y'all are saying, what the people are saying, what your parents are saying. You've got to focus on what your coaches are saying and what you're doing in practice.
"That's hard because they all watch ESPN, they all get asked questions by you: 'Hey, you haven't won but X number of times in 20 years,' but our main message is, 'Hey, we've got to focus on this year. It's not last year, it's not next year, it's this year.' That's the only thing we can be concerned about."
Richt said he has varied his methods in preparing previous Georgia teams for the Florida game. In one period, he invited several guest speakers to address the team during the bye week that preceded the meeting with the Gators.
There were no such highlights during the Bulldogs' bye week last week.
"I think we are much better off focusing on the things that really, truly matter, and that's: What is your job, what are your assignments, what are you going to do if this happens, what are you going to do if that happens?" Richt said. "When we get there, I don't think we are going to have any problems with emotions. I don't think we are going to have any problem with guys being excited to play that game."
Bobo said that mindset is particularly important with this Georgia team, which could have as many as five starters who have never played in the annual neutral-site game in Jacksonville. Then again, Bobo said Georgia's coaches have perpetuated that bunker mentality since preseason camp -- and that approach helped the team when the Bulldogs started the season with two losses before winning their last five games.
"I just think that's been Coach Richt's main message this year is that we're going to go to work and we're all in it together and whatever happens, good or bad, we're going to just keep working," Bobo said. "Everybody's bought in, coaches and players, and I think it's helped us get through the rough start we've had and I think it will help us continue the rest of the year."
Mitchell's status uncertain
Freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell did not practice Tuesday after his injured hamstring tightened up during Monday's workout.
Richt bristled Tuesday when asked about Mitchell's status, saying, "Yeah, he didn't do well [Monday]. He practiced for about five minutes, maybe." But Bobo and quarterback Aaron Murray were more positive about Mitchell's status for the Florida game.
"I am optimistic, but you never know with a muscle pull or strain, whatever it is," Bobo said. "He's a guy that we hope will be out there and give us a threat."
Although Mitchell missed the Bulldogs' last game against Vanderbilt, he remains the team leader in receptions and receiving yards, with 25 grabs for 438 yards and three touchdowns. He pulled up lame while running with a 71-yard catch against Tennessee on Oct. 8 and since then has not been made available for media interviews.
Murray said he spoke to his star freshman wideout, however, and that he expects him to play.
"They just don't want to push it too much with him right now and make sure he's close to 100 percent by game time," Murray said. "He's a competitor and I know he's going to do whatever it takes to try to get that thing as close to 100 percent as he can."
High praise for Howard
Bobo said one of the toughest tasks for his offense Saturday will be to neutralize Florida nose tackle Jaye Howard.
Thanks in part to his ability to move quickly when the ball is snapped, Howard is fourth on the team with 33 tackles, along with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
"He has got the fastest get-off I've ever seen in my years of coaching," Bobo said. "When that ball's snapped, he's half a second faster than everybody else getting off the ball, and we've got to be ready. We've got to do a great job of playing with our hands and placing our hands because he can get his hands on you and he can shock you."
Bobo added that Murray and the offense must do a good job of varying their cadences during the game to keep Howard from getting into a rhythm, because he "does probably lead the conference in offsides" penalties.
Georgia's Jarvis Jones is one of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation's top linebacker. ... Florida announced Tuesday that tight end Gerald Christian and receiver Robert Clark are leaving the program in search of increased playing time. They become the eighth and ninth Gators to seek a transfer since April. ... Safety Shawn Williams and snapper Ty Frix worked out in green noncontact jerseys Tuesday during the portion of Georgia's practice that was open to the media. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Williams fully participated in practice and that the green jersey was simply a precautionary measure. Williams will sit out the first half of the Florida game on a suspension for a flagrant hit against Vanderbilt.
David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.