Auburn’s Ricardo Louis made the 73-yard touchdown catch with 25 seconds remaining that gave the Tigers a 43-38 win. Richt said no coach, including defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, told the defense in a timeout before the play to bat down the fourth-and-18 pass.
Georgia sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons deflected the pass to Louis while trying for an interception. Safety Tray Matthews, a freshman, also defended the play.
“Obviously, at the end of the game, you’ve got to know to knock a ball down in that situation,” Richt said. “You know, we had a timeout prior to that. I’m in there, Grantham’s in there, we’re all in there. I could have easily said, ‘Hey guys, if the ball is launched deep, bat it down.’ I could have said that. That’s a good reminder for a young bunch of guys back there.
“I had my chance to coach that up and didn’t do it.”
Richt said the defense prepares for similar fourth-and-long plays every week in practice.
“We bat it down every Thursday,” Richt said.
Richt said a defensive back’s instincts to intercept a pass can overwhelm weekly instructions to knock down the ball.
“In the moment of truth, the ball is coming right to you and you’re thinking about getting it,” Richt said. “Josh is trying to defend the play. He’s looking at the ball.”
Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera said no reminders from Richt or Grantham should have been necessary.
“It’s football. You should know the situation,” Herrera said Tuesday. “We all are supposed to know the situation when we play defense. I mean, that doesn’t have to be said. You should know it and if you don’t know it, it is what it is.”
The loss ended the Southeastern Conference championship hopes for Georgia (6-4, 4-3 SEC). The Bulldogs will play Kentucky on Saturday night. The dramatic loss to Auburn was the dominant topic Tuesday.
Georgia trailed Auburn 37-17 in the fourth quarter before quarterback Aaron Murray led an improbable comeback for a 38-37 lead.
Richt said he tells his players and coaches to always ask “what I could have done better” instead of pointing to mistakes by others. He said he thought of his missed opportunity in the timeout when critiquing his performance.
Richt may have been attempting to deflect criticism of Grantham, who has faced mounting criticism.
Georgia has allowed at least 30 points seven times this season, and more than 40 in three games. Georgia ranks 82nd in the nation with its average of 30.2 points allowed per game.
Auburn had 323 yards rushing and 566 total yards — each high marks allowed by Georgia this season.
Despite the ugly numbers, Richt said fourth-quarter defensive stops made the comeback possible.
“I’ll just say this: I was pleased with how we finished that last game,” he said. “Other than that one play, there was a string of some great defense being played, just to allow us to get back into the game without trying to do some desperation onside kick.”
Georgia seniors will play their final home game against Kentucky. There are only two seniors among Georgia’s starters and top backups on defense: starting defensive end Garrison Smith and backup safety Connor Norman.
Georgia lists three freshmen as defensive starters: outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, cornerback Shaq Wiggins and Matthews.
There are 16 freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep depth chart on defense.
“We have so many young guys that we’re dependent on and they just don’t have the experience,” Smith said. “It’s just tough but at the end of the day I’m proud of everybody. I’m proud of this team.
“This team is going to come up. We have almost everybody coming back, especially on defense and they can’t go nowhere but up from here.”
The loss to Auburn ended Georgia’s SEC championship hopes.
Tailback Todd Gurley said there is still a championship game in the Bulldogs’ future — the Nov. 30 regular-season finale at Georgia Tech.
“We do have a championship to play for,” Gurley said. “We still have the state championship to play for.”
Georgia could have a chance to be invited to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville if it finishes with eight wins. The Bulldogs have not played in the bowl since Vince Dooley’s last game as coach on Jan. 1, 1989.
Georgia might land in the Music City Bowl in Nashville or Liberty Bowl in Memphis if it splits its last two games.