ATLANTA — Todd Grantham’s Georgia defense kept Florida out of the end zone last October in Jacksonville as the Bulldogs won their second straight against the rival Gators.
Grantham is as fiery as any coach around, but the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator didn’t get bent out of shape by what Florida coach Will Muschamp said earlier this week on the speaking circuit: That the Bulldogs’ winning ways against his team won’t last long.
“I mean, you know, what do you expect him to say at a Gator function?” Grantham said before speaking Wednesday night at UGA Day at Atlanta Marriott Buckhead, where he stepped in for head coach Mark Richt, who had a conflict with his schedule. “Will’s a guy that I know personally. I think he’s done a great job at Florida. I think he’s very competitive as we all are as coaches. He’s a guy that wants to win. I think he’s just really trying to fire up the people in Jacksonville.”
What Muschamp said, according to the Florida Times-Union: “It’s not going to be a long winning streak, I can assure you. We feel very comfortable.”
Georgia already has its longest winning streak in the series since taking three in a row from 1987-89.
Grantham has called Muschamp, a former Georgia safety, “a good friend of mine.” He talked to Muschamp when he was Texas’ defensive coordinator about a transfer from Southern California named Jarvis Jones, who Muschamp recruited out of high school.
“The bottom line is, in this league, you really win with individual performance,” Grantham said. “You win with mental and physical toughness and you do it on the field. The fact is the last two years, we’ve won in Florida and we’ve won the SEC–SEC East I should say. From that standdpoint, that stuff has really no effect on me or how we prepare.”
Grantham is replacing a star player who had dominating individual performances the last two years against Florida. Jones, the two-time All-American outside linebacker, had seven sacks in two games against the Gators and had two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season in a 17-9 Bulldogs win.
Georgia forced six Florida turnovers in that game and rode a pair of touchdowns on fourth-down passes in a 24-20 win in 2011.
“In this league when you turn the ball over, you’re going to have a hard time winning,” Grantham said. “The last two years we’ve had 62 turnovers [gained], which is second to only LSU.”
Grantham lost seven players off the defense who were selected in last month’s NFL draft, including first-round linebackers Jones and Alec Ogletree and third-rounders in safety Shawn Williams and nose guard John Jenkins.
“Those players have been able to kind of show the young guys the way and take ownership of the team,” Grantham told the crowd. “The guys that are here now, it’s their turn for the torch.”
Earlier, Grantham said he felt good about the unproven talent.
“I don’t think you look at anything as a crutch,” Grantham said. “These guys came to Georgia to win. We expect to win. We’re looking forward to the season.”
Georgia has more depth on the defensive line, he said, than in years past.
“We’ve got 11 guys that are going to be competing for playing time,” he said. “I think all of those guys can give some kind of role.”
At inside linebacker, Ramik Wilson finally has an opportunity to get playing time. Coaches have liked what they’ve seen from him for a year, he said.
Grantham mentioned outside linebacker James DeLoach’s strong spring to reporters beforehand and to the crowd later.
In the secondary, freshman Tray Matthews “is a young guy in the back who has shown he has the ability to play in this league.”
As for the incoming freshmen who didn’t enroll early, Grantham said he’s looking forward to taking a look at Shaq Fluker from East Mississippi Community College and Kennar “KJ” Johnson from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in the secondary.
“Both those guys are JUCO guys that I think can have an immediate impact,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you. I look forward to working with all of them. I think all of them have some upside and a skill set that they can help us.”
Grantham said rangy outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who is already on campus, can also make an impact after arriving from Hargrave Military (Va.). He said he expects the 12 defensive signees that did not enroll early to not have any issues academically that will hold them up from arriving at Georgia.
Notes: Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox said he would like to name a replacement for assistant Kwanza Johnson by the start of summer school in June. He said former Bulldog Jonas Hayes, the program’s operations coordinator, is under consideration for the job. TCU officially announced it had hired Johnson on Wednesday. “Whoever we hire, that’s something that recruiting connections will be a big part of that,” Fox told the crowd. Earlier, he said he was looking for someone that was the “total package.” … Georgia will play Wofford on Nov. 8 in Athens in what appears to be the season-opener for the Bulldogs, according to a game contract obtained by the Athens Banner-Herald. A home game against Appalachian State is also lined up on Nov. 29. The two schools will play in football on Nov. 9 in Athens. …Fox said former Bulldog Jarvis Hayes is back on campus taking classes. …Outgoing Georgia president Michael Adams, who addressed the crowd, sat at a table with former Bulldogs linebacker Rennie Curran, who will play in the CFL. Curran took the microphone at one point and mentioned that Grantham criticized him for entering the NFL draft as a junior instead of staying to play for Grantham. “I was right, too,” Grantham said. …Grantham said outside linebacker Chase Vasser, coming off shoulder surgery, has been cleared to work “full-tilt” in offseason workouts. …Grantham on former Bulldogs linebacker Christian Robinson moving into a graduate assistant position: “He’s a guy that I think the world of. …I think he can be a dynamic coach. It’s something good for the program and good for us.”