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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Write Off the Bulldogs at Your Own Peril

The Bulldogs have already made one important choice heading into Saturday’s game against L.S.U.: given the option of wearing the same Nike uniforms they wore in September’s loss to Boise State, the Bulldogs opted for a more traditional look. Red shirts, red hats, gray pants. As Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote on Wednesday, thinking outside the fashion box has typically backfired on Georgia, which in recent years has donned red, black and black against Boise State, Florida and Alabama, respectively, and promptly lost by 14, 24 and 11 points, respectively. And can you blame Georgia for putting September in the rearview mirror?

You’d be wise to follow suit. The Georgia you saw in September, the one that lost back-to-back games to the Broncos and South Carolina, is not the same team that prepares for L.S.U. tomorrow afternoon. It’s the same coach, the same players and the same system, but it’s not the same team: today, Georgia is playing defense as well as any team in the country. And it’s this defense that gives the Bulldogs a chance at knocking off the Tigers, creating a B.C.S.-sized mess in the process.

Georgia allowed 77 points to the Broncos and Gamecocks. Kellen Moore picked the Bulldogs apart through the air, overcoming a sluggish start to complete 28 of 34 attempts for 261 yards and 3 scores. Marcus Lattimore tore through the Bulldogs on the ground, rushing for 176 yards on 27 carries. In all, thanks in part to a 68-yard run by Melvin Ingram off a fake punt, U.S.C. rushed for 253 yards.

Georgia’s next five opponents combined for 83 points. Mississippi scored one offensive touchdown. Mississippi State scored none. Tennessee scored once, a meaningless score late in the fourth quarter — and Georgia promptly blocked the extra point.

Georgia’s last five opponents have combined for 70 points. Somehow, Florida cobbled together 20 points via -19 yards rushing, zero pass protection and solid play on special teams. Safety Bacarri Rambo scored as many touchdowns, one, as did the Auburn offense. Only one team, Miami, held Georgia Tech to fewer points and rushing yards as did the Bulldogs last Saturday.

The story has been this defense, which has gone from stressful to stingy since South Carolina. Here’s how Georgia beats you on defense: size up front, speed on the edge, a nose for the ball along the back. A simple formula, one preached for generations — and seen at L.S.U. and Alabama, it should be noted — and one that has propelled Georgia into the B.C.S. conversation.

The three-man front of nose tackle John Jenkins and ends Arby Jones and DeAngelo Tyson weigh in at a combined 966 pounds. Jenkins, at 351 pounds, narrowly beats out his backup, 350-pound sophomore Kwame Geathers, to be the biggest defensive lineman in college football. And if you think Jenkins weighs 351 pounds, well, he doesn’t. Georgia’s trying to fool you by being precise; don’t fall for it.

And Jenkins is the key to the whole deal: far more disruptive than his size would indicate, Jenkins is a mountain-sized menace with the ability to dictate the tempo in the middle of the Georgia line. Without him, Georgia would not be able to run Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense as effectively as it has; with him in place — after Jenkins spent a few weeks spent getting acclimated — all systems are go.

Where would Georgia be without Jarvis Jones? Second in the nation in sacks, Jones was only ruled eligible by the SEC and the N.C.A.A. in August after a months-long investigation into his receiving impermissible benefits. Jones keys the second level, which benefits greatly on first down from the size up front but excels on passing downs. As a team, the Bulldogs have 32 sacks, tying them with L.S.U. for most in the SEC.

Georgia has intercepted at least one pass in all but two games in 2011: Florida and Tennessee. In last week’s loss, Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington completed only a shade more passes to his own players, three, as he did passes to players in red, two. Georgia joins Rutgers as the only teams in the F.B.S. to have allowed 10 or fewer touchdowns and made at least 17 interceptions.

Georgia throttles you with a time-honored blueprint, one you’ll see in action tomorrow. One: be physical at the point of attack. This goes for defensive linemen and cornerbacks alike. Two: confuse protection. This, the ability to disguise, is one of the beauties of the 3-4 system. Three: Get After Their Asses.

Grantham is no Erk Russell, and no, this defense is not yet a pack of Junkyard Dogs. But you see the similarities, most notably in the simple formula of getting stops on first down, getting to the quarterback on clear passing downs and playing the football in the secondary. Russell, one of the all-time greats, would appreciate this defense. High praise.

And what does L.S.U. have on defense that Georgia doesn’t? Name value. Depth, especially along the defensive line. Cockiness — that the Tigers have in spades. Meanness? That’s a shared trait. Ability to stop the run? Also shared. Rush the quarterback? Shut things down in the secondary? Shared and shared.

The point is this: Georgia can win this game. Would it come with beauty points? Beauty has left the building, replaced by two nasty, talented defenses. One, the one in Athens, has something to prove. As does a Georgia team unwisely left for dead in September.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Gotham Gator says:

    Good stuff. Georgia is certainly good enough to pull off the upset. But, while their 10-game winning streak is impressive, it only came because of a surprisingly easy schedule. They beat up on the weak SEC East and played the 3 worst SEC West teams – no LSU, no Alabama, no Arkansas.

    And while the defense has been very good, the offense has been quite mediocre, mysteriously so given the talent on hand. Thus, the wins – none over a team in the AP top 25 – have generally been close. To beat my Gators, for instance, Georgia needed two turnovers deep in Florida territory followed by two jump-ball TD passes on 4th down.

    That’s not an offense that can succeed against LSU. However, Georgia should be able to shut down LSU’s offense enough to keep the game close. In that case, anything remains possible, and there are those of us who feel that LSU is due. The Mad Hatter has to run out of luck at some point? Right?

  2. SixWinSeason says:

    Les Miles is a leprechaun! He pulls luck out of his a@$#.

  3. DMK says:

    I’d be more willing to entertain the notion of a UGA upset had I not seen the Kentucky game.

    I also get the feeling that Georgia, though they should play like they have nothing to lose, might crack under the pressure. LSU is so battle tested and so cool that they should be able to pull away from UGA with out too much trouble.

    Tied at end of 1st. LSU by 6 at half. By 13 at start of 4th. Win by 21. That sort of thing.

  4. Dave says:

    LSU’s biggest problem may be if they listen to the chatter and realize they don’t need to win this game to play for a national title.

    Every game counts my a$$.

  5. Lee says:

    UGA is a perfect example of your competition making you lok better than you are. Their offense had trouble against mostly average defenses. LSU is going to stuff UGA.

    LSU’s power running game will slowly wear them out and by the fourth quarter..will have amassed a double digit lead that will get ugly.

    UGA can’t beat any of the top three in the SEC west. They are a mirage….my Gators had them beat and they SUCK. Vandy Had them beat. UK almost beat them…STate and Ole MIss had their chances.

    This is a 5-6 loss team if not for the soft schedule. The EAST just isn’t the East at the moment.

  6. DMK says:

    Every game against (non-terrible competition) counts!

  7. Bill Condon says:

    Just because it’s worth remembering–and to show the difference between this talent-rich defense and the Junkyard Dawgs–here is Erk on the subject:

    “By our own definition, a Junkyard Dog is a dog completely dedicated to his task, that of defending his goal line. Further, he is very often a reject (from the offense) or the runt of the litter. Nobody wants him, and he is hungry. We had three walk-ons, four QBs, and three running backs in our original Junkyard Dog starting cast, which averaged 208 pounds across the front. In short, a Junkyard Dog is one who must stretch and strain all of his potential just to survive. Then he can think about being good.”

    Vince Dooley kept the best talent for the offense. Mark Richt is willing to share. The defense will show up. If the offense, which is streaky because of playing so many very young athletes, also shows up, this will be a game and a half. Go Dawgs!

  8. [...] mean they can’t win.  Their defense says they can.  Paul Myerberg makes the case for that here. … Grantham is no Erk Russell, and no, this defense is not yet a pack of Junkyard Dogs. But [...]

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