ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — After only one loss, Mark Richt and his Georgia players are feeling the heat.
The Bulldogs have fallen out of the Top 25, raising the stakes heading into this week's Southeastern Conference game against No. 12 South Carolina.
Georgia finished 6-7 last year and opened this season with a 35-21 loss to then-No. 5 Boise State on Saturday night.
Richt bristled Tuesday when he was asked about the importance of the game for his program and his future.
"I view it as a very important game," he said.
A few minutes later came the follow-up: Is the home game against South Carolina a must-win game?
"Didn't I just say it's a really important game?" asked Richt.
But do you think it's a must-win?
"I think it's a really important game," he said. "You want to ask me again? Because you can and I'll give you the same answer."
It's hard to escape the question. Georgia players also were asked about Richt's status on Tuesday.
"I think we're always trying to play for Coach Richt, as much as he does for us," said defensive end Abry Jones. "We try not to let that talk get to us or get us down."
Some Georgia players say fans have sent them negative comments on Twitter.
Tight end Aron White says he has decided to stop tweeting about football, at least for a week, due to "a lot of negativity going on right now" with fans.
White said he believes some fans are impatient and upset because Georgia is coming off its first losing season since 1996.
"I don't want to start any ruckus between any fans," White said. "I love all our fans. I think all our team loves all our fans."
White says he thinks if Georgia had a better year last year and then opened the season with a loss, things would be different.
"I don't think as many people would have jumped to criticize and speak negatively," he said. "But I think coming off a losing season, our first losing season in about 14 years, and then opening with a loss, that's never good. People are obviously going to have something to say to that."
White said the criticism from fans stings, even if he can understand their frustration.
"It's tough to swallow when you ... see everything you're putting into it," White said. "To have people tear it down at the end of the day because you had an off game and you lost to a good team, it hurts and it's going to stir some emotions, but it's to be expected. They care about the team just like we do."
Richt has reminded his players that the nonconference loss to Boise State won't affect the team's goal to return to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to play in the SEC championship game.
"I feel like all our hopes and dreams and goals for the season are still there," said quarterback Aaron Murray. "If we want to get back to Atlanta at the end of the year, we know that first game did nothing to affect that. We know we've got to win out the rest of the year. You get to Atlanta and you win that, who knows what ... can happen from there."
Georgia won SEC championships under Richt in 2002 and 2005 and also played in the 2003 SEC championship game. Georgia won 10 or more games in six of Richt's first eight seasons before finishing 8-5 in 2009 and capping the disappointing 2010 season with a 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl.
Overall, Richt is 96-35 in 11 seasons.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.