Georgia’s coaches will assuredly spend some of this week on the road recruiting.
Here’s who they’ll be looking for: a Nick Fairley.
Question his tactics if you like – and you’d have good reason since Auburn’s star defensive tackle delivered, at minimum, one late hit on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray that deserved a penalty in last Saturday’s game – but rest assured that Georgia’s coaches would drool over the chance to add a player with Fairley’s capabilities to their roster.
In fact, if Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense is ever to work in Athens, the Bulldogs must add someone just like Fairley. And they haven’t had someone like that in ages.
Take it from Mark Richt himself, who told the Touchdown Club of Atlanta on Monday that, Georgia lacks "a big beast" at nose guard "to demand and command that double team."
Fairley not only commands double teams, he explodes through them and then manages to wreak havoc in the backfield, anyway. Georgia simply doesn’t have that kind of player.
Come to think of it, when was the last time Georgia had an interior defensive lineman who regularly dominated a game? Johnathan Sullivan?
I’ve covered Georgia for the last five years and the Bulldogs haven’t had a defensive tackle capable of anything close to the whipping Fairley regularly dispenses on Southeastern Conference offensive lines, Georgia’s included.
When was the last time Georgia had such an intimidator? Murray joked last week about asking Fairley, "Please don’t kill me" before the game, but those comments were born out of evidence Murray had already seen on film.
Fairley makes a habit of blowing up blocking schemes and then getting to the quarterback with malicious intentions. Sometimes the quarterback makes it to the next play and sometimes he’s the recipient of a body slam that sends him to the trainer’s table.
Fairley clearly crosses the line into dirty play at times, which nobody should condone – even if the SEC office announced Tuesday that Fairley will not be suspended for his showing against Georgia – but there is no doubt his nasty streak gets in opposing offense’s heads.
They gameplan ways to slow him down, which have largely been unsuccessful. Sometimes they might even resort to questionable tactics themselves – as Georgia did when it attempted an unsuccessful chop block midway through the second quarter on Saturday.
Fortunately for Fairley – and unfortunately for Murray, who was forced to continue taking more of the 300-pounder’s abuse – the Bulldogs are approximately as good at chop blocking as they are at traditional blocking. He slid off the block aimed at his knees and Georgia cost itself a first down with a 15-yard personal foul.
Before we veer too far off course, the point of this is not to rehash specific incidents in Saturday’s game. More than enough has already been written and said about Fairley’s adherence to the rules. The point is to say that Georgia desperately needs a player just like Fairley who strikes fear into opponents’ hearts.
Sure, Georgia has had players in recent years who concerned the opposition. A.J. Green certainly keeps opposing defensive coordinators awake at night. Same with Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford when they were Bulldogs.
But the Bulldogs haven’t had a non-skill-position player who scared opponents since probably Charles Johnson in 2006, or perhaps Greg Blue the year before that. And if you think hard-hitting intimidation doesn’t make a difference on defense, look over Georgia’s defensive statistics since the last time the Bulldogs had such a player.
Maybe the Bulldogs have such a potential defensive force already on their roster, but he certainly hasn’t emerged as a legitimate threat yet. Fairley has 18 tackles for loss this year. Total up the number of tackles for loss made by all of Georgia’s defensive linemen and you’ll get the exact same number.
Maybe with another year in Grantham’s system, a player like Kwame Geathers can become Georgia’s Fairley. At 6-foot-6 and 300-plus pounds, Geathers has the size to command such attention, but he hasn’t produced much yet.
Not that he’s alone. Nobody has produced on the interior line with the consistency Georgia needed. And that’s a major problem.
Think back on the Bulldogs’ losses this year and recall how one of the culprits has almost always been the same. They are weak along the line of scrimmage.
South Carolina pushed Georgia around in handing the Bulldogs their first loss of the year. Florida and even lowly Colorado broke the 200-yard rushing mark. Auburn just gashed the Bulldogs for 315 rushing yards and scored at will.
Add just one lineman with Fairley’s size, speed and motor – and that’s a tall order, as few recent defensive linemen have dominated in SEC play the way he has this year – to the mix and it’s a completely different story. As crazy as it might sound, Georgia might even have won the SEC East this season.
Instead, they’re 5-6, fighting for bowl eligibility and beating the bushes across the state to find a Fairley of their own.
You don’t have to like Auburn’s defensive tackle – and if you’re a Georgia fan today, I can’t imagine that you do – but you’d better pray Richt’s staff finds somebody just like him.
Grantham’s defense most likely isn’t going to function properly until they do.
• David Ching is the sports editor of the Banner-Herald. Phone: (706) 208-2239. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.