- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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For all the talk about how Shawn Williams’ “soft” comments woke up Georgia’s sleeping defense before the Florida game, Jarvis Jones points to a different weekend that re-energized an underperforming unit.
He looks at Georgia’s embarrassing 35-7 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 6 that sent the Dawgs back to Athens with their tails between their legs and tossed their SEC/BCS hopes temporarily into the garbage.
It also served as a time for the Dawgs’ defense, which returned just about everyone from a unit that ranked fifth nationally in total defense a year ago, to realize that skill alone wasn’t going to get the job done.
The defense needed to get its swagger back by relocating its focus, something the junior linebacker said was lost with distractions and arrogance.
“South Carolina did a great job of reminding us and humbling us and got us on the right path,” Jones said.
That path has been a relatively smooth one for the Bulldogs, and extremely bumpy for opponents. Since its rough outing against the Gamecocks, the Bulldogs have risen in the defensive rankings and have allowed just 301 total yards per contest in the past six games. During that span only one team -- Kentucky -- scored 20-plus points on the Bulldogs. Before that, five of Georgia’s first six opponents scored 20 or more.
Granted, only two of Georgia’s past six opponents currently rank within the top 50 in total offense (Georgia Tech, 28; Ole Miss, 46), but the defense’s play is a far cry from what it was at the beginning of the season.
“We've been focused and we've been disciplined and very coachable,” said Jones, who is third in the SEC in tackles for loss (19.5) and sacks (10.5). “That got us to the point where we are today.”
He's also hoping it gets Georgia past Alabama’s bruising offense in Saturday’s SEC championship game.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide will arrive in Atlanta with one of the SEC’s most balanced offenses. Alabama is fourth in the league in total offense, averaging 433 yards a game, and is second in scoring at 39 points per game.
AJ McCarron is the second-most efficient quarterback in the country -- right behind Georgia’s Aaron Murray -- with a QB rating of 176.25 -- and the two-headed running attack of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon has accumulated 1,848 bruising rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.
Add arguably the nation’s best, most NFL-ready offensive line and some talented receivers, and Georgia’s defense faces its toughest test of the season.
“They have great athletes and great coaching,” linebacker Christian Robinson said. “When those two things are as well done as Alabama does, you're going to have some problems. They're the best team we'll face up to this point.
“When you're able to run the ball and do play-action, and you have the skill guys outside, that's dangerous.”
One skill guy who will be out for the Tide is receiver Kenny Bell (broken leg), who was arguably Alabama’s top deep threat. With him gone, the Tide will likely turn to its running game even more. That hasn’t boded well for opponents, as Alabama is averaging 5.4 yards per carry (5.3 in conference play) and 214 rushing yards per game.
Stopping the run has been an issue for the Dawgs at times. Georgia is surrendering more than 163 rushing yards a game and nearly 4 yards a carry. Back-to-back triple-option attacks from Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech churned out 608 yards on the Bulldogs in the past two weeks.
But Alabama won’t surprise the Georgia with triple-option nonsense. Simply put, Alabama is aiming to ram the ball down the Dawgs’ throats and then catch them woozy with the play-action.
“You don't see a lot of missed assignments,” Robinson said of Alabama’s running game. “You see hat on a hat. If you get a hat on a hat, that means the running back finds the hole and is able to get to that second level a lot faster than some other teams we've maybe played in the past.
“Both of those backs are able to hit it up and spin, and turn for those extra yards that a lot of other backs that we've faced to this point haven't been able to do.”
Georgia’s defense is ready to be hit in the mouth, but if the past few weeks have told us anything, it won't hesitate to hit back, again and again.