Although Georgia’s defense didn’t have its season-best performance statistically in its 45-14 victory over Georgia Southern on Saturday, it was still a very satisfying afternoon for the No. 5 Bulldogs.
Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith (56) celebrates a fumble recovery in the Bulldogs' win over Georgia Southern on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. Smith had seven tackles and a tackle for loss on the day.
Georgia Southern (8-3) managed 318 total offensive yards, with the lion’s share (302) coming on the ground. One of the few college teams utilizing the triple-option attack, the Eagles amassed 149 rushing yards in the first half, but managed only 31 yards in the pivotal third quarter, when the Bulldogs (10-1) scored 21 points to pull away.
Georgia had some early difficulties with Georgia Southern’s streaks to the edge, particularly by former Clarke Central star Darreion Robinson, who led all rushers with 28 yards in the first quarter. But it didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to make the necessary adjustments to keep the Eagles at bay.
“Anytime you face a team that does something full-tilt, it takes a little bit (of time to adjust), but I think we handled them pretty good,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “Guys understood where their eyes needed to be for the fence and what they needed to do.”
Although the Eagles tied the game 7-7 early in the second quarter, nose tackle John Jenkins said the Bulldogs’ defense never became alarmed or panicked.
“We weren’t frustrated,” said Jenkins, who finished the game with three tackles and was elated to survive the cut-blocking (below the waist) prowess of Georgia Southern’s linemen. “We just had to adjust to the type of offense they were running. It’s one thing when you try to practice against it, but when you’re going against the real people who actually run it every day, it’s kind of hard to adjust. Once we moved the right people around and executed the right plays, it was a lot easier.”
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said even though the Georgia defense spent as much time as possible in practice last week preparing for the option, it still takes time to get comfortable defending it.
“The whole season, we’ve been seeing spread and pro offenses and then we see a triple option late in the year and we only have a week to prepare for it,” said Jones, who finished with six tackles, including one for lost yardage. “I think our scout team did a great job preparing us and cutting us and getting out on the edge. We just had to see it a couple of times and in the second half, we came out and made adjustments and killed it.”
Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, who led Georgia with 12 tackles, offered the oft-repeated key to dealing with the option — assignment football.
“Everybody has to know their assignments and stick to them,” he said. “Coming into the game, we knew they were going to try to get to the edge and they were able to do that in the beginning, but (Grantham) was able to figure out what we were going to do and when we were going to do it. He gave us some calls so we could stop them from getting to the edge so fast and turn up field. Guys just wanted to hustle to the ball and stop the run.”
Inside linebacker Christian Robinson — who received his first start of the season and finished with nine tackles (two for loss) and a fumble recovery — said the defense started getting results when they took on a more physical persona.
“We started knocking them back a little more,” he said. “When you’re taking up ground, they want to go east and west and then cut it up at the last second. When you’re messing up those running lanes and making them have to read you, that’s when you start dictating what happens. We had the size up front to knock people back and make that happen.”
The defense will have one more week of triple-option practices as Georgia Tech — which defeated Duke 42-24 on Saturday in Atlanta — comes to Sanford Stadium next weekend. Georgia looked at the Georgia Southern game as a more-than-adequate prep session for the Yellow Jackets.
“Georgia Tech is a little different, personality-wise, than Georgia Southern, but the concepts are the same and the types of blocks we’re going to see are the same, so it will help us as we move forward,” Grantham said. “And if you have to play (the triple option), it’s much better to play it in consecutive weeks rather than early in the year and then again later on.”
“It’s the best look you’ll get,” Robinson added. “This is a team defense. There are a lot of different stats, but it came down to somebody taking a gap so that somebody else could get free. It was a complete team effort.”