Write Off the Bulldogs at Your Own Peril
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 2, 2011
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.
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Tags: Bacarri Rambo, Georgia, John Jenkins, L.S.U., Mark Richt, Todd Grantham
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