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UGA to play bowl game shorthanded
Willie Martinez reacts after Georgia took possession of the ball during a game against Mississippi in Athens, Ga. - photo by Associated Press

ATHENS, Ga. — Offensive-minded Mark Richt has had to spend more time than usual on Georgia's defense.

Richt dismissed three defensive coaches, including defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, at the end of the regular season. So Richt has been overseeing the defense as the Bulldogs (7-5, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) prepare to face Texas A&M (6-6. 3-5 Big 12) on Dec. 28 at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

"I've enjoyed it," Rich said Wednesday of his expanded duties. "I'm not trying to reinvent anything. My role is to set the parameters and make sure everything is being covered and to make sure we have a plan schematically and a plant to implement that strategy."

Richt has spent most of his career on the other side of the ball.

Prior to his arrival at Georgia in 2001, he spent 10 years as quarterbacks coach and six years as offensive coordinator at Florida State. Before that he spent a year as offensive coordinator at East Carolina.

Rodney Garner, the team's lone holdover on the defensive coaching staff, is working with graduate assistants Mitch Doolittle and Todd Hartley in getting the Bulldogs defense ready for the Aggies, who averaged 34 points and a conference-leading 465.3 offensive yards per game this season.

"I'll also keep a very close eye on how the defensive players are responding to coaching and those kinds of things," Richt said. "That's the biggest part of my role, which isn't altogether different than what I normally do but is a little more intense."

Although the Bulldogs have only had a few practices since the regular season ended, there's definitely a different feeling on the field.

"It's been really strange not to have those extra voice behind you, pushing you and telling you what you need to work on," said junior linebacker Rennie Curran, who led Georgia with 122 tackles this fall. "You've got to be really responsible and really conscious of where you're at because you don't have coaches there where you used to It's kind of an awkward time because we've got our GAs here who are young guys, but we believe in them."

"We've only had one practice and it wasn't that long," added senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens. "I don't see that much of a big difference. We've got guys out there coaching and we've still got a game plan. We've just got to go out there and play. We're mature enough and old enough to know what's expected and what we've got to go out and do."

With or without experienced coaches, the Bulldogs defense, which gave up an average of 26.4 points and 328 offensive yards per game, figure to have quite a challenge corralling the Aggies. They are led by quarterback Jerrod Johnson (3,217 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, six interceptions), running backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray (who combined have rushed for 1,519 yards and 14 touchdowns) and receivers Uzoma Nwachukwu (37 catches, 670 yards, six touchdowns) and Ryan Tannehill (44 catches, 574 yards, four touchdowns).

Johnson "is the catalyst of the offense," Richt said. "They'll look to spread it out and go fast-paced. They'll run out of every formation known to mankind, and our challenge will be to recognize those formations. They throw the ball around a lot and spread it to try to get you thinned out for their running game."

Richt, who in addition to readying Georgia for the bowl game is recruiting both players and a potential defensive coordinator, said even though he's been quite busy, there is no timetable on bringing in a new coach to run the defense.

"I'd hate to think it would go past the first week of January," Richt said of when he'd like to have a new coordinator in place. "But I'm not 100 percent sure when it will happen I'll know when the time is right."

Richt added that he'll hire a coordinator before seeking candidates for the other two openings on his staff.

The new defensive coordinator "will have a say and will make suggestions, but it will all be through my blessings," he said. "We'll get a defensive coordinator fire and then let him give his input."

Curran, who may bolt the Bulldogs for the NFL after the season, is nonetheless anxious about who the team's new defensive coordinator will be.

"I'm very curious," he said. "It will mean a lot to see how we fit into a new scheme and what feel we'll get from the new coaches. We're obviously missing our coaches, but we know Coach Richt will bring in the best guy for the job."