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Grantham reunion 'interesting' for UGA

12/8/2014

Mark down Georgia graduate assistant Christian Robinson for making the understatement of the year on Sunday shortly after the Bulldogs' bowl matchup became public knowledge.

"This will be interesting,” Robinson tweeted.

No kidding.

There are subplots galore in the Belk Bowl pairing between Georgia (9-3) and Louisville (9-3), but the biggest one centers around who will be standing across the field from the Bulldogs. Not just volatile defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who joined Bobby Petrino's Louisville staff in January after spending the previous four seasons at Georgia, but also defensive backs Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons, who followed Grantham from Athens to Louisville.

Both sides will do their best to downplay any hurt feelings that accompanied those exits, where Grantham left after fans and media regularly questioned his job security during a disappointing 2013 season and Harvey-Clemons (dismissal) and Wiggins (transfer) leaving shortly thereafter.

In fact, Georgia coach Mark Richt attempted to do as much on Sunday. But rest assured, the winner will privately take a great deal of satisfaction in the outcome. That's nearly as much of an understatement as former UGA linebacker Robinson's tweet.

It was Grantham, after all, who was Robinson's defensive coordinator in the final three seasons of his career. In 2011 and 2012, Grantham's defense played a big role in the Bulldogs winning the SEC East both seasons and posting a combined 8-0 record against rivals Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. It was Grantham, also, who helped Robinson land the graduate assistant-ship at his alma mater, bringing Robinson onto the 2013 coaching staff shortly after the St. Louis Rams released him during preseason camp.

But things went south last season, with a rebuilding defense struggling mightily by surrendering 29 points per game and Grantham becoming the target of much of the fans' wrath. When Louisville offered a pay raise and the chance to add his brother, Tony, to Petrino's coaching staff, it felt like the best move for all involved for Grantham to change locales.

By and large, the results have been positive for both parties. Richt hired an entirely new defensive coaching staff, led by new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and Georgia's defense has improved over its 2013 performance. And while Louisville lost two defensive starters to the first round of the NFL draft, Grantham's Cardinals defense still ranks sixth nationally by allowing 293.3 yards per game.

His defense is doing that without the services of Harvey-Clemons or Wiggins, who are both sitting out the season as transfers. But the awkwardness of the situation is not lost on the Bulldogs, current or former. Wiggins' tweet after the bowl announcement showed that he was amused by the pairing, and he and former UGA teammate Ryne Rankin traded messages about it later in the afternoon.

Compounding the potential unpleasantness is the presence of Petrino himself. It has been seven years removed from when he abandoned the Atlanta Falcons in midseason in order to take the head coaching job at Arkansas, but it's safe to say many sports fans in the Peach State will never forgive him for the way he handled his exit.

Former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley experienced the whole thing first-hand as a backup quarterback with the Falcons during Petrino's short tenure. He weighed in on the matchup Sunday, as well.

However, we've long since crossed this bridge with Petrino. He coached against Georgia twice during his time at Arkansas, so the stories about his coaching against a Georgia-based team have already been written.

Shoehorning his departure from the Falcons into some sort of rivalry with Georgia always felt like a stretch, anyway. Not so with Grantham. This is a game that the Bulldogs' former defensive coordinator desperately wants to win, and surely his former co-workers feel the same way.

Robinson was right. It's sure to be interesting when their teams meet up on Dec. 30.