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Georgia football coach Mark Richt, left, is in his 15th season with the Bulldogs, but it's his first without former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo.

ATHENS, Ga. — Absence is making the heart grow fonder for the Georgia Bulldogs, and in a hurry.

After producing record-setting offensive numbers in recent years under former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, the Bulldogs are struggling under new offensive play-caller Brian Schottenheimer. Bobo has not enjoyed the smoothest transition into the head-coaching ranks — his Colorado State Rams lost two overtime games in September and have a 3-5 record — but the Bulldogs he left behind are averaging 29.4 points per contest after last season's program-record clip of 41.3.

Georgia has gone consecutive games without scoring a touchdown for the first time since 1969.

Richt responds to rumors

Georgia football coach Mark Richt spoke out on Twitter for the first time in nearly a month Thursday to combat rumors that second-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was losing his job.

“Just so everybody knows,” Richt posted shortly after noon, “Jeremy Pruitt is our defensive coordinator and is in the office working diligently getting ready for Kentucky.”

Atlanta’s 680 AM had reported late Thursday morning that Pruitt could already be out and that there may have been a physical altercation.

Richt was asked during his weekly news conference Tuesday if there was disharmony within the staff and said, “Not really. There are always things that happen in the heat of the battle and all that in every game, but it’s just typical game-day type stuff. We’ve had no issue there.”

— David Paschall

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"We were performing pretty good there for a minute," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said this week, "but we hit some pretty good defenses and some injuries, and we've had some inconsistent play overall. I mean, there were plenty of times where we struggled while Mike was here, too. I don't know if anybody remembers that.

"When you leave, everybody loves you."

Bobo was anything but widely beloved during his play-calling stint at Georgia, which began with the Georgia Tech game in 2006 and ended with last season's game against the Yellow Jackets. A first-and-goal decision to throw last year at South Carolina instead of running Todd Gurley drew sharp criticism, even though it occurred during a game in which the Bulldogs amassed 408 yards and 35 points.

Georgia set program records for total yards (6,547) and touchdowns (72) in 2012 and added another single-season standard with 484.2 yards per game in 2013. Then came last season's record scoring average that led the Southeastern Conference, but this year's Bulldogs rank eighth in the league in total offense and ninth in scoring.

"We just executed better last year," sophomore tailback Sony Michel said. "It all comes down to execution no matter what play is run or what call is called. If you execute it the right way, the best man is going to win."

When Schottenheimer was hired in January, the biggest concern about him succeeding Bobo was on the recruiting front. Schottenheimer arrived after 14 seasons in the NFL, while Bobo was a recruiting force, named by 247Sports.com as its national recruiter of the year in 2011 after he landed coveted prospects such as receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, tight end Jay Rome, defensive end Ray Drew and cornerback Nick Marshall.

There were early tweaks to the terminology and new offensive ideas, and it was hard to notice any troubling signs in September, when a 52-20 thrashing of South Carolina highlighted a 4-0 month.

"In the spring it was tough adjusting, but at this point we're used to it," sophomore tight end Jeb Blazevich said. "I don't think anybody has had any communication breakdowns or anything like that, so I think we're all on the same page."

Georgia set offensive records under Bobo despite various degrees of injuries to the likes of Gurley, Mitchell, Scott-Wesley, tailback Keith Marshall, receiver Michael Bennett and quarterback Aaron Murray. The injury bug smacked Schottenheimer last month when sophomore tailback Nick Chubb, who was on track for a Heisman Trophy ceremony invitation, suffered knee ligament damage at Tennessee.

The Bulldogs are 5-3 overall and 3-3 in SEC play entering this week's game against visiting Kentucky, and they have spiraled since Chubb's injury due to erratic quarterback play. Greyson Lambert was good enough to take Georgia to a 5-2 start, which might have been 6-1 had Reggie Davis not dropped a key pass in Knoxville, but a gamble last week to start Faton Bauta backfired in a 27-3 loss to Florida.

"It's hard for me to put a finger on it," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said of Georgia's offensive woes. "I know we'll have our hands full, because they still have the physicality about them that you always identify them with offensively. I think the changing of quarterbacks would be one thing that's different this year. I don't know what they'll do this week, but I would expect they'll go back with Lambert."

Said Richt: "I think Coach Schottenheimer is a great coach. I think he knows what he's doing, and I think he knows how to coach QBs extremely well. We've had a lot of ups and downs, but the season is not ever yet."

Bobo is trying to get his Rams bowl-eligible after last season's team under Jim McElwain won 10 games, but he was asked this week about Richt's dwindling support. Bobo told reporters the longer someone stays at a school, the larger percentage of the fan base is lost because people get dissatisfied.

Support for Schottenheimer is dwindling at a much faster rate.

"I've always had a lot of faith in Mike," Richt said. "I think you know that. It's been documented well, and I have a lot of faith in Schotty as well."

Contact David Paschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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