SEC: Garrison Smith

Georgia Bulldogs season preview

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
10:30
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Georgia Bulldogs

2013 record: 8-5 (5-3 SEC). Lost 24-19 to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

Key losses: QB Aaron Murray, TE Arthur Lynch, DL Garrison Smith, S Josh Harvey-Clemons, S Tray Matthews, CB Shaq Wiggins, OT Kenarious Gates, OG Chris Burnette, OG Dallas Lee, DL Jonathan Taylor.

Key returnees: RB Todd Gurley, LB Ramik Wilson, LB Amarlo Herrera, OLB Leonard Floyd, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OT John Theus, CB Damian Swann, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Chris Conley, DE Ray Drew, C David Andrews, PK Marshall Morgan, WR Justin Scott-Wesley.

Instant impact newcomers: OLB Lorenzo Carter, RB Sony Michel, RB Nick Chubb, CB Malkom Parrish, DT Lamont Gaillard, DB Shattle Fenteng, TE Jeb Blazevich.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Floyd
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIAfter leading the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks as a freshman last season, big things are expected of Leonard Floyd in 2014.
Breakout player: Floyd. The lanky outside linebacker led Georgia with 6.5 sacks in 2013 and added 9.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. He’ll benefit from having a full year in Georgia’s conditioning program and could become a star in his second season.

Most important game: Sept. 13 at South Carolina. Two of the favorites in the SEC East will meet early in the season in Columbia, where the Gamecocks haven’t lost since 2011. They’ve beaten Georgia in their last two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium, including a 35-7 thrashing in 2012. The margin for error is typically narrow within the division, so the winner of this one will be the early team in the East driver’s seat.

Biggest question mark: The secondary is easily Georgia’s biggest area of concern. The Bulldogs’ pass defense was spotty at best in 2013, and the offseason departures of three regulars has left plenty of personnel questions. Coach Mark Richt kicked two starting safeties -- Harvey-Clemons and Matthews -- off the team, and cornerback Wiggins transferred to Louisville, so there is plenty of playing time available. Swann’s presence is big at cornerback, and converted running back J.J. Green was impressive in the spring, but junior college transfer Fenteng and Parrish will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in August.

Upset special: Oct. 11 at Missouri. This could be a tricky game that might not get as much attention as it deserves with matchups against Clemson, South Carolina, Florida and Auburn also on Georgia’s schedule. The defending SEC East champs lost a ton of firepower, so Mizzou seems likely to take a step backward. But it’s a long road trip that kicks off a stretch of more than a month when the Bulldogs won’t play at home once -- and it could easily become a loss if Georgia doesn’t have its act together.

Key stat: 36.7. The average score of a Georgia game was 36.7 to 29.0 in 2013. Even if what was an inexperienced defense improves this fall, the Bulldogs will still likely rely on their star-studded offense. They might need to keep scoring at that prolific clip, which is somewhat uncertain with three longtime starting offensive linemen to replace, to allow time for the defense and their new set of coaches to develop some continuity.

Team’s top Twitter follows: The Bulldogs have some good choices here. Seeing as how he’s never started a game, it might seem surprising that senior offensive lineman Watts Dantzler (@WattsDantzler) has 12,000 Twitter followers. But he’s a natural-born entertainer who has a nationwide following that grew substantially when he live tweeted a harrowing spring break trip back to Athens on a bus. Another good pick is tight ends coach John Lilly (@JohnLillyUGA), who is a much more creative on Twitter than the typical coach. Lastly, Conley (@_Flight_31) regularly updates his 27,400 followers on his latest film exploits; he produced and starred in a well-received “Star Wars” tribute film over the summer and has started work on a new movie in recent weeks.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Info: 9.06 wins

Bovada over-under: 9.5 wins

Our take: Georgia was better than an eight-win team last season, but the Bulldogs were absolutely decimated by injuries to key players like Mitchell, Gurley, Scott-Wesley, tailback Keith Marshall and eventually Murray. If new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt can get things straight on his side of the ball, the ceiling is extremely high for this team. The offense has an impressive array of talent surrounding senior quarterback Hutson Mason and should be difficult to contain. If the Bulldogs open with a win against Clemson at Sanford Stadium, this could easily become a 10-2 or 9-3 season where Georgia is once again in the thick of the East race.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Like former Georgia teammate Zach Mettenberger a week before him, Aaron Murray wanted to prove that he’s close to full health at the Bulldogs’ pro day on Wednesday -- his first public passing session since tearing his left ACL last November.

Although he didn’t attempt more than 100 throws like Mettenberger did at LSU’s pro day last week, Murray’s battery of agility drills and a wide range of drops, rollouts and throws showed that he should be physically ready to compete when his future team opens rookie camp.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/John BazemoreAt Wednesday's pro day, Aaron Murray didn't show ill affects from his November ACL injury.
“I think I’ve shown everyone that they don’t have to worry about my injury, that it’s not going to stop me from being able to compete this year,” Murray said. “Now it’s just a matter of what teams like me, what teams don’t and is one going to draft me.”

Murray completed 48 of 54 throws with three drops in Wednesday’s passing session, which was directed by quarterback guru and former NFL assistant Terry Shea. Among Shea’s previous pre-draft clients are No. 1 overall picks Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford and No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III.

“I thought it went very well,” Shea said. “In four weeks that we’ve been together, I’ve never seen him favor that knee or anything. So I’m really excited that he’s healthy.”

In fact, Murray is apparently ahead of schedule in his recovery. Trevor Moawad, vice president at the EXOS/Athletes’ Performance facilities where Murray conducted his offseason workouts, said the training staff followed a similar rehab schedule as they did with Bradford, who was also coming off an injury when preparing for the 2010 draft.

“I think he’s ahead of probably where he should be at this time and I think come May 8 after the draft, I think he’s going to be able to show up at a team and be right where he needs to be,” Moawad said.

Murray was the featured attraction at Wednesday’s sparsely attended pro day, which represented a significant change from last year, when the Bulldogs had eight players drafted -- four in the first 85 picks -- and three more who made NFL rosters as undrafted free agents.

Murray (No. 129) is the only Bulldog listed among ESPN’s top 150 draft prospects, and only he and tight end Arthur Lynch received invitations to the NFL combine. Nonetheless, 15 former Bulldogs worked out Wednesday before the 23 NFL teams that had representatives on hand -- many of whom still harbor hopes of becoming late-round selections or undrafted free agents.

That group included offensive guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee, both of whom snapped to the quarterbacks during passing drills, showing off what they hope teams will view as positional versatility.

“I feel like you get to the next level, they want to have a guy who’s a swingman, who can play multiple positions,” said Burnette, rated by ESPN as the draft’s No. 19 guard prospect. “I don’t want to limit myself to guard. I’ve had a little bit of experience playing center, so I tried to focus on my snaps and stuff like that during this time off. I think it was good for me to be able to do that.”

Another player hoping to catch an NFL club’s eye was defensive lineman Garrison Smith, who ranked fourth on the team with 63 tackles and added six sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. Smith is hardly a flashy player, but said scouts who pay close attention to his performances on film will see an NFL-caliber player.

“I can do it all. I can look good in a T-shirt, I can look good in the birthday suit, it don’t matter. But I’m a football player,” joked Smith, rated by ESPN as the No. 34 defensive tackle prospect. “When them pads get on, it gets real serious. In them trenches, ask about me down there. I’ve got a lot of respect down there and I made a lot of plays.

“Look at game film, look at my stats. I had good games against good teams this year. I didn’t have no amazing games against teams that they say were less of opponents. I had good games against Florida, LSU, Tennessee. They’re supposed to have one of the best offensive lines in the country. Watch the film. That’s all I want people to see: I’m a good player.”

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt agreed with his former player’s assessment, noting that he would not be surprised to see Smith find a way to stick on an NFL roster like the three undrafted Bulldogs -- receiver Marlon Brown and defensive linemen Kwame Geathers and Abry Jones -- did a year ago.

“People will see his film. They’ll see his productivity,” Richt said. “From what I’m hearing, if he doesn’t get drafted, he’s going to get into a camp and get a chance to make it. We had Geathers last year didn’t get drafted and made a team. We had Abry Jones, I don’t think he was drafted [and] he made a team. I’m hoping he gets drafted, but if he doesn’t, he’ll get in camp and I think he’ll find a way to stick.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Amarlo Herrera isn't ready to assess Georgia's 2014 defense yet. Not when the Bulldogs still have to play a bowl game before this season is complete.

“We're not talking about that yet,” the Georgia linebacker said after last Saturday's double-overtime win against Georgia Tech. “The season's not over yet. But when the season gets over, we'll start talking about those things and people will remember these [comebacks against Auburn and Georgia Tech].”

Step one in the evolution of a defense that loses only one senior starter -- defensive lineman Garrison Smith -- will be to put together complete games, not just decent halves. Against both Auburn and Georgia Tech, in particular, disastrous starts forced the Bulldogs to mount dramatic rallies in the game's waning possessions.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
AP Photo/John BazemoreTray Matthews is one of 10 starters that should return on Georgia's defense next fall.
“We've got to stop coming off slow in the first half,” inside linebacker Ramik Wilson said. “We've got to finish, and that's what we've been doing in the second half.”

Wilson has a point. The starts were horrendous -- Auburn scored 27 points and Georgia Tech 20 before halftime -- but Georgia's defense was fairly solid in the second half of more than just those two dramatic comeback bids.

The Bulldogs were awful defensively for most of the first month of the season, with a 28-point second half by Tennessee in Game 5 perhaps ranking as the low point. But since then, Todd Grantham's defense has generally improved as the games progressed.

Since the Tennessee game, the Bulldogs allowed 10 second-half touchdowns in seven games -- half of those coming when opponent scoring started at the 50-yard line or closer because of errors by Georgia's offense or special teams. In the last month of the regular season, the Bulldogs allowed seven second-half points to both Georgia Tech and Kentucky, zero to Appalachian State and 16 to Auburn, although the final six came on a 73-yard Ricardo Louis touchdown catch for the game-winning score after Bulldogs safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews failed to bat down an off-target pass.

“We said it felt like it was like the Auburn game,” Herrera said of the Bulldogs' rally from a 20-0 deficit against Georgia Tech. “We just had to step up and we had to make plays real quick before it got ugly.”

The Tech game was already bordering on ugly before the Bulldogs salvaged it with their second-half rally. They argued afterward that the comeback was an example of their season-long persistence, even against long odds.

“Everybody knows about the tipped pass at Auburn and people wanted to know how we would bounce back off that. Well, we're 2-0 off that loss,” said sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson, who was victimized in coverage on several of Tech's biggest passes. “It's not about how you fall because you're going to fall in this game of football. You're going to fall many times. It's just you've got to get back up.

“Like for myself, to me I had a poor game, but how did I respond? I just tried to keep playing and show my teammates that I'm playing to get better on the next drive.”

The hope for Grantham and his staff is that the rocky moments that Dawson and many other youthful defenders experienced this season will become learning tools as they mature. The 2013 defense was simply not consistent enough, as its program-worst point (opponents averaged 29.4 ppg) and yardage (381.2 ypg) totals reflect, but there were occasional flashes of promise, as well.

He used the game-ending, fourth-down pass breakup to clinch the win against Georgia Tech as an example -- which easily could have been the third such key fourth-down stop by his defense had one of his safeties properly defended Auburn's last-gasp throw or had an official kept the flag in his pocket instead of incorrectly penalizing Wilson for targeting on a fourth-quarter pass breakup against Vanderbilt.

“That's the third fourth-down situation that we've had this year. We had one at Vandy, we had one at Auburn and we had one here,” Grantham said. “We've got a lot of young players on our team that will grow from it and they'll get confidence from it and we're going to develop them and move forward and win a bunch of games.”

The talent clearly exists for Grantham's projection to become reality. Harvey-Clemons, Matthews, outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, defensive end Ray Drew, Herrera and Wilson -- all of them should be back in 2014. If they and their defensive cohorts can perform with discipline that matches their physical capabilities, Georgia's defense could take a step forward next fall.

It's on Grantham and company to ensure that such progress occurs.

“Part of coaching and part of a program and part of being what we want to be, when it's going not the way you want it, you find a way to battle back,” Grantham said.

Reviewing a wild season of UGA football

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's season is obviously not over, as we'll learn the 8-4 Bulldogs' postseason fate sometime within the next week. But Saturday's double-overtime win against Georgia Tech put an exclamation point on easily the craziest regular season in Mark Richt's 13 seasons as Georgia's coach.

Let's look back over the season and recap some of the highs and lows:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray had a standout season until he joined the long list of Georgia injuries.
What might have been: There is not a single game this season where the Bulldogs did not play without at least one key player -- and by the Tech game, the injured list featured an all-star team of talent. Considering how receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin-Scott Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall suffered season-ending knee injuries before the midway point, quarterback Aaron Murray will miss the final two games with an ACL injury and that tailback Todd Gurley, receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett and tight end Jay Rome all dealt with multiple-game setbacks, it's a wonder that Georgia didn't go into a steeper tailspin than it did.

MVP: This has to go to Murray, who broke multiple SEC career passing records as a senior. The Kentucky game started out as a senior-night tribute to the four-year starter, only to see it end in heartbreak when he suffered the knee injury in the second quarter that ended his season. He returned for his senior season to win a championship, although injuries and a shaky defense prevented Murray from reaching that goal. Nonetheless, his leadership prevented what could have become a major mess when many of Georgia's best offensive skill players were missing in the middle of the season.

Wildest finish: There's no shortage of competition in this category, as Saturday's Tech game was only the most recent Georgia game that was decided in the closing moments. That's what happens when seven of your 12 games are decided by a touchdown or less. But the winner here has to be the Auburn game, when the Bulldogs rallied from a 20-point, fourth-quarter deficit to take a 38-37 lead on Murray's fourth-down touchdown scramble with 1:49 remaining. Murray's heroics were for naught, however, as Nick Marshall hit Ricardo Louis on a deflected 73-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining, after the pass somehow slipped through Georgia's Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews.

Surprise performer: Ramik Wilson. He was certainly not perfect -- particularly in pass coverage -- but Wilson became the SEC's tackles leader by playing nearly every important down and always hustling to the ball. He didn't make much of an impact in his first two seasons while rotating between inside and outside linebacker, but Wilson was a valuable contributor in leading the team with 128 tackles and tying with Jordan Jenkins for the team lead with 11 tackles for loss. He also made one of the Bulldogs' biggest defensive plays of the season when he deflected a Vad Lee pass in the second overtime against Georgia Tech, enabling Damian Swann to knock the ball away for the game-ending incompletion.

Worst defeat: The Auburn loss might have been more painful, but the 31-27 defeat at Vanderbilt was more avoidable. The Commodores outscored Georgia 17-0 in the fourth quarter -- a comeback expedited by a targeting flag on a fourth-quarter pass breakup by Wilson. The penalty was overturned upon review, but it still resulted in a first down and a 15-yard mark-off down to Georgia's 15-yard line, and eventually a Vandy touchdown. Georgia's ineptitude also contributed to the implosion -- including costly turnovers and an overall lack of aggression on offense -- which made it a particularly galling defeat.

Star in the making: Hutson Mason. Several players could figure in here -- Scott-Wesley, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and safety Harvey-Clemons immediately come to mind -- but this will almost certainly be Mason's team next season. He overcame a shaky start against Tech to lead the Bulldogs back to an overtime win by completing 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Let's keep in mind that it was the first start of his career, on the road, against arguably Georgia's biggest rival.

Biggest disappointment: We all knew the score when the season started. Georgia's defense lost almost every significant player from last season, minus defensive lineman Garrison Smith, inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera, outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and cornerback Swann. A reasonable expectation was for the group to struggle against a challenging early schedule and make rapid improvements as the season progressed. Only that improvement never truly occurred with any consistency. Georgia's defense is better off now than it was when the season started, but there is too much talent on that side of the ball for the Bulldogs to keep making the bone-headed mistakes that plagued them for too much of the season.

Biggest relief: The overtime win against Tennessee kept the Bulldogs in the top 10 for another week, but the rally from an early 20-0 deficit against Georgia Tech will likely be the one more Georgia fans remember. Richt has dominated the Yellow Jackets throughout his tenure, but things didn't look promising when Lee was picking apart Georgia's secondary and Mason and the offense were struggling. A second-quarter touchdown drive helped them to settle down, and they went on to deliver an emotional comeback victory.

Best performance: Gurley's four-touchdown performance against Tech (or his early touchdowns against Florida in his return from a month-long absence) would certainly qualify here. But let's go with one of two showings -- and you can't lose with either one -- by Murray against South Carolina or LSU. Murray faced consistent attacks that he shrunk in the spotlight during his early years, but he largely eliminated those criticisms this season. He was nearly perfect against South Carolina, ending the Gamecocks' three-game series winning streak by going 17-for-23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns. Two games later, he went 20-for-34 for four touchdowns and one interception, plus a rushing score, against LSU and hit Scott-Wesley with the game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass with 1:47 remaining.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Garrison Smith is prepared for the inevitable and knows what he has to do against Georgia Tech on Saturday -- something Florida's defenders struggled to accomplish in last Saturday's upset loss against a similar Georgia Southern offense.

[+] EnlargeGarrison Smith
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIGarrison Smith and Georgia's defensive line will have to be disciplined taking on Georgia Tech's option offense.
“You've just got to use your hands and keep [the offensive linemen] off your legs. That's what you've got to do,” the Georgia defensive lineman said. “You're going to get cut [blocked]. That's going to happen. But you've just got to keep playing.”

Smith's first substantial playing time actually came as the result of a questionable cut block that knocked DeAngelo Tyson out of Georgia's 2011 win over the Yellow Jackets. Smith, then a green sophomore, replaced Tyson in the lineup and recorded seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss, earning SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week honors in the process.

Defensive players don't like dealing with triple-option offenses like Georgia Tech (7-4) and Georgia Southern run, and specifically don't like having to keep their eyes out for pesky offensive linemen who consistently dive at their knees.

“It's just like being out on the streets: you've got to keep your head on a swivel and watch your surroundings,” Smith said. “Protect yourself at all times.”

Otherwise you could suffer Tyson's fate. Or even if you manage to protect yourself, you might fail to fill the proper gap and be the goat when the Yellow Jackets break a long run.

That was the issue for Florida's defense last weekend against Georgia Southern, when the Eagles ran 54 times for 429 yards and upset the Gators 26-20.

Afterward, Gators coach Will Muschamp admitted that the challenges presented in defending that scheme leveled the playing field for the FCS Eagles.

“That's why a lot of these schools run it -- because it takes talent out of the equation,” Muschamp told reporters this week. “A lot of talented guys don't like having somebody at their knees every snap, either.”

Georgia (7-4) has improved in each successive game against Georgia Tech's option since Todd Grantham became defensive coordinator in 2010. That first year, the Yellow Jackets ran 77 times for 411 yards and Georgia barely held on for a 42-34 win. The Bulldogs have won easily in each of the last two seasons, with Tech running 53 times for 243 yards in a 31-17 loss in 2011 and 67 times for 302 yards in last season's 42-10 defeat where their only touchdown drive came against reserves in the fourth quarter.

The problem for Georgia, however, is that only three regulars -- Smith, cornerback Damian Swann and outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins -- have played much against the Yellow Jackets' unique attack. It's entirely different from what Georgia's players and coaches see the rest of the season, so that real-time experience is valuable for all parties.

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsVad Lee and Georgia Tech's offense are averaging more than 300 yards rushing per game this season.
“I think the more you see anything, the better you feel about it from that standpoint,” Grantham said. “But they're going to mix up what they do. Every year they try to change up and tweak it.

“But the bottom line, it gets down to players making plays, players executing, being where they need to be, playing with good pad level, playing physical and doing all the things you need to do to stop that kind of offense. Because it's really a team-oriented defense to play against, meaning you've got to take care of your assignment and trust someone's going to be somewhere else because if you don't do that, then you create a seam and that's when they get the explosive plays.”

Tech has largely been successful in that regard. As per usual under Coach Paul Johnson, the Yellow Jackets rank among the national leaders in rushing offense (fourth at 316.1 yards per game). They have scored 16 touchdowns -- 11 rushing, five passing -- that covered at least 20 yards and rushed for 200-plus yards in every game but one. In fact, they've rushed for more than 250 in all but their losses to Virginia Tech (129 yards) and BYU (237).

As long as Georgia's first-time starting quarterback Hutson Mason and his cohorts keep Georgia's high-scoring offense on track, the Bulldogs don't need to hold Tech to fewer than 200 rushing yards to win. If the Bulldogs keep grinding against Tech's deliberate attack and consistently arrive where they're supposed to be to make stops, they should survive.

“Everybody's got to do their job,” said Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson, the SEC's leading tackler with 119 stops. “Me and Amarlo [Herrera], the inside-box guys, we've got to stop the dive. And we've got two outside linebackers that have got to stop the quarterback. And we've just got to make the plays. If we don't make the plays, we get gashed, so we've got to do our job and everything should be all right.”

That's easier said than done, however, as Muschamp can attest.

“You've got to have your offense moving and scoring because as long as [Tech's offense is] on track and on schedule, it's pretty effective,” Grantham said. “It's when there's a separation and they're off track, whether it be down-and-distance or score, then it becomes more difficult. So that's kind of a team thing right there. Fortunately we've been able to do that the last couple years. But it's a challenge to play it.”

SEC players of the week

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
3:30
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Here are the SEC players of the week, as announced by the league Monday:

OFFENSE: Terrence Magee, RB, LSU
  • Rushed for a career-high 149 yards and one TD on 13 carries in win over No. 9 Texas A&M.
  • Had a 65-yard run on LSU’s third possession of the game that setup his 1-yard TD run to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead in the contest.
  • Averaged 11.5 yards per carry as the Tigers racked up 324 yards on the ground, the most in an SEC game for the Tigers since a 52-3 win over Ole Miss in 2011.
DEFENSE: Chase Garnham, LB, Vanderbilt
  • Garnham paced the Commodore defense with 10 total tackles, including seven solo stops and a tackle for loss, in Vanderbilt's 14-10 victory over Tennessee. The 10-tackle total tied a career high for the three-year starting linebacker.
  • Garnham's performance was a key factor in Vanderbilt limiting the Volunteer offense to 237 total yards and the fewest points scored by Tennessee against Vanderbilt since 1968.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Harold Brantley, DT, Missouri
  • Had two huge plays that impacted the outcome of Mizzou’s 24-10 road win Saturday at No. 24 Ole Miss, as he first blocked a Rebels field goal attempt in the first quarter to snuff out a scoring threat. Mizzou led 7-0 at the time, and Ole Miss drove to the Tiger 1-yard line before being forced to settle for a 23-yard try. Brantley got a big push and blocked the kick to give Mizzou back the ball with its lead intact. Fellow freshman Josh Augusta was initially credited with the block, but after film review, it was Brantley.
  • Later, in the third quarter, after Ole Miss scored on its opening possession of the half to cut Mizzou’s lead to 17-10, Mizzou’s offense went three-and-out, but on fourth-and-2 from the Tigers' 20-yard line, Brantley’s number was called on a fake punt. Serving as one of the shield protectors for the punt, Brantley took the direct snap and raced around to the left edge to daylight. He made a nice move to shake one potential tackler near the first-down line, and raced 26-yards to the Tiger 46-yard line to squelch the Ole Miss momentum.
Co-FRESHMAN: Rashard Robinson, DB, LSU
  • In his first career start, shut down Texas A&M’s top receiver Mike Evans, Robinson limited the SEC’s leading receiver to his season SEC-low for receptions (four) and second-lowest yardage output in an SEC game this year (51) … Also held him without a TD.
  • Evans came in with a league-best 12 receiving TDs … Had 2 tackles and his first career interception in the game … Interception came on A&M’s first possession of second half and resulted in a LSU touchdown nine plays later that stretched the Tiger lead to 31-10.
CO-FRESHMAN: Paris Head, DB, Vanderbilt
  • Inserted into the Vanderbilt defensive secondary after injuries forced both starting cornerbacks to the sidelines, Head contributed two key interceptions in the Commodores' 14-10 victory over Tennessee.
  • Head's second pick ended a Tennessee threat deep in Vanderbilt territory in the fourth quarter. His interception of a Tennessee fake field-goal attempt came at the Vanderbilt 10-yard line with Tennessee leading 10-7.
  • Head's performance at cornerback helped the Commodores limit Tennessee to 53 passing yards, 237 total yards. The secondary also picked off three Volunteer passes.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Gabe Jackson, OL, Mississippi State
  • Jackson was credited with three pancake blocks and was instrumental in the Bulldogs totaling 488 yards of offense, including 209 on the ground.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Garrison Smith, DE, Georgia
  • Smith was Georgia’s second-leading tackler against Kentucky with seven tackles, including two sacks for 10 yards and three tackles for a loss of 11 yards.
  • He also forced a pair of fumbles, one of those leading to a Bulldog touchdown.
  • Smith moved to fourth on the team’s tackle list with 58.
  • He helped anchor a defense that held Kentucky to 211 total yards on offense, including just 62 on the ground.

Discipline required to defend Auburn

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Few teams in college football are more committed to moving the ball on the ground than Auburn, which suits the members of Georgia's defensive front seven just fine.

The Tigers bring the nation's third-best rushing attack (320 yards per game) into Saturday's game vs. Georgia, but defending the run is what the Bulldogs have done best this season, ranking fourth in the conference and 20th nationally in rushing defense (126 ypg).

[+] EnlargeAmarlo Herrera
AP Photo/Paul AbellGeorgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera has 79 tackles and an interception on the season.
“We are excited that we have the opportunity to, I guess you could say, flex our muscles, show who we really are,” Georgia defensive end Ray Drew said. “This is going to be one of those tell-tale games. But if we go out and do what we're supposed to, I know that the talent level that we have with myself, Sterling Bailey, Garrison Smith and those guys, the guys up front, I believe we're going to be fine. I'm confident as all get out. I don't see anything that's going to stop us other than ourselves.”

Lineup stability has been one of the key factors in Georgia's mostly solid play against the run, as the defensive line hasn't been hit hard by injuries the way some other position groups have this season. More importantly, inside linebackers Ramik Wilson (10.2 tackles per game) and Amarlo Herrera (8.8) -- two of the SEC's top four tacklers -- have managed to stay healthy enough to play nearly every important down this season, providing veteran presences at positions that otherwise would have been manned by freshmen.

The two junior linebackers denied, however, that they're feeling any ill effects from the heavy workload at this late point in the season.

“I feel good, man,” Herrera said. “I feel good, I love football. This is the only time of year I get to play. I waited all year for this.”

Wilson agreed, adding, “We're always in the cold tub and getting treatment, so we feel pretty good.”

Saturday's game might be the biggest test yet for the starting duo of Herrera-Wilson. Auburn's run-heavy spread offense centers around quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason's ability to break long runs and keep the chains moving even when plays don't break big.

Defending it properly requires disciplined play from the linemen and linebackers entrusted to fill gaps and clean up with a tackle -- much like how they must play sound “assignment football” each down to contain Georgia Tech's option running game.

“Looking at both of the offenses, really they try to cause chaos and confusion,” defensive end Sterling Bailey said. “As a defense, we've got to just play our technique and play our fundamentals.”

For the most part, Georgia has done that against the run. The Bulldogs knew LSU would try to establish the ground game when they met earlier this season and held the Tigers to just 77 rushing yards on 36 carries.

It's defending the pass that has created the most glaring issues for Georgia's defense -- for instance, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger passed for 372 yards even when his running game was faltering -- so Georgia's defenders are perfectly happy to face an Auburn offense that frequently attempts fewer than 10 passes in a game.

“I don't have to run around a lot,” Herrera said. “I get to play football and hit somebody every play. I don't have to cover as much as I do on other weeks because you know they're going to run the ball.”

Surely other Auburn opponents have had similar thoughts prior to facing the Tigers. Yet corralling elusive runners like Marshall and Mason has proven not to be so simple. Aside from a 120-yard rushing effort in their last-minute win against Mississippi State -- they passed for 339 yards in that game -- the Tigers have rushed for at least 200 yards in every game this season.

That includes a 511-yard game on the ground against Western Carolina, 379 yards in an upset of Texas A&M and 444 last Saturday against Tennessee -- with Marshall going for 214 yards and two touchdowns.

To avoid becoming another victim on the Tigers' hit list, the Bulldogs' front seven has to operate quickly -- and provide its most technically sound performance of the season.

“You've just got to know your responsibilities and everybody has to be gap-responsible because if one person's out of position, it can be a big play,” safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said.

SEC players of the week

November, 4, 2013
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Here are the SEC players of the week as released by the league on Monday:

OFFENSE: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
  • Rushed for 168 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries to lead Auburn to a 35-17 win at Arkansas. His four rushing touchdowns and 32 carries were both career-highs.
  • Became the first Auburn player since Cam Newton at Kentucky in 2010 to rush for four or more touchdowns in a game.
  • It was his fourth 100-yard rushing game in the last six contests.
DEFENSE: Victor Hampton, DB, South Carolina
  • Hampton was credited with eight tackles including six solo stops. He had three pass breakups and forced and recovered a fumble.
  • The Gamecocks defense forced five turnovers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Marshall Morgan, PK, Georgia
  • Morgan scored 11 points in the Bulldogs’ 23-20 win over Florida, including 3 for 3 on field goals.
  • He highlighted his performance by drilling a 32-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and a 49-yarder earlier in the game.
  • Morgan leads the SEC in scoring at 10.2 pts/game and is 13-for-15 on the year (misses from 52 and 39).
FRESHMAN: Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri
  • Led the No. 10 Tigers to a 31-3 victory Saturday over Tennessee to improve Mizzou to 8-1, 4-1 in SEC play. Accounted for 277 yards of total offense, as he became the first Mizzou QB since 2011 (James Franklin vs. North Carolina) to throw and rush for 100 yards in a game.
  • Ended the night with 163 yards passing and 3 touchdowns (zero interceptions) and ran for a career-high 114 yards on 13 carries (an 8.8 avg. per attempt).
  • His touchdown passes came from 9, 26 and 40 yards to three different receivers, and he did not take a sack on the night.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Justin Britt, LT, Missouri
  • Britt had another all-star performance as he helped pave and protect the way for a 502-yard night of total offense for Mizzou in its 31-3 win against Tennessee. Britt graded out at 94 percent, and he had five knockdown blocks, three pancake blocks and two cut blocks. Additionally, Britt allowed zero QB pressures and zero QB sacks.
  • Mizzou rushed for 339 yards Saturday against Tennessee, marking its biggest rushing total in a conference game since 2003, when the Tigers ran for 376 yards in a 45-7 win against Iowa State on Nov. 29, 2003.
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: Garrison Smith, NG, Georgia
  • Smith recorded a career-high nine tackles, including 2.5 sacks for loss of 12 yards, during Georgia’s 23-20 win over Florida.
  • After coming into the game with 1.5 sacks this year and only a single sack during the first three years of his career, Smith is third on the team with four sacks and third with a total of 44 tackles this season.
  • He led a defense that surrendered only a pair of touchdowns (which had drives of 14 and 50 yards) and a field goal.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Despite the insistence from both sides that this season's Georgia-Florida game still has meaning -- talk that has merit, considering the winner will remain an active competitor in the SEC East race -- Saturday's game does occupy an unglamorous spot in the rivalry's history.

This is a series in which national championships and conference titles are regularly in play for the Bulldogs and Gators when they travel to Jacksonville, Fla.

Just last season, Georgia's 17-9 win represented Florida's only defeat of the regular season, effectively knocking the Gators out of the SEC championship game. Instead, the Bulldogs faced eventual champ Alabama with a spot in the BCS title game at stake.

Fast forward a year and both teams are 4-3, decimated by injuries and unranked.

"There may be a lot of people across the country that aren't too interested in this one as much as they would have been maybe, but I know we are, and I know Florida will be, as well," Georgia coach Mark Richt said on his Monday evening call-in show. "We know what this game means. It means an awful lot regardless of the records."

This is the second time in the last four meetings that neither team is ranked -- the other was 2010 -- but that is highly unusual for this series. Before the 2010 game, at least one of the teams was ranked every year since 1979. And in the last 20 meetings, they were both ranked 10 times.

Even more telling is that both teams have lost their last two games: Georgia to Missouri and Vanderbilt and Florida to LSU and Missouri. According to ESPN Stats and Information, this is the first time since 1926 that Florida and Georgia will meet with both riding multiple-game losing streaks.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Stephen MortonAaron Murray and the Georgia seniors lost to Florida in OT as freshmen but have won two in a row since.
Nonetheless, Saturday's game represents a major opportunity for Georgia's senior class. At worst, they will finish their careers with a .500 record against the Gators, since Georgia carries a two-game series winning streak into Saturday. They can become Georgia's first senior class in their lifetime to post a winning record against Florida, as the last group that could make that claim was Georgia's 1990 senior class.

"Florida's always big. Every game's big," said senior defensive end Garrison Smith, who was born in 1991. "We've got our back against the wall, with all these guys we've got hurt, so we're just doing the best we can just to get any kind of win."

A win against a rival is always meaningful, but the Eastern Division is still in play for both teams, as well. Missouri (3-1 in SEC play, including wins against Georgia and Florida) could have all but clinched the division if it had held on to beat South Carolina (4-2) last Saturday. But by allowing the Gamecocks to come back from a 17-0 deficit for an overtime victory, Georgia or Florida (both 3-2) could win out and still possibly win the division if Missouri slips.

Richt said the Mizzou loss added some importance to Saturday's game -- although he doesn't seem to believe that it needed much of a spark.

"Missouri losing this past week opens the door for us to stay in this race for the East, and it opens the door for Florida to stay in the race for the East," Richt said. "So I don't think anybody's given up on that. I hope they haven't. I know I have not. That's why I came to Georgia is to win SEC championships, and so you've got to win the East first, and we're still in the race and this game is huge in that regard, as well.

"So we know how important it is, and even if we were mathematically out of the race for that Eastern Division championship, it's still a huge game. We all understand that."

Q&A: UGA DE Garrison Smith

October, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As the lone senior starter on Georgia's defense, preseason All-SEC defensive end Garrison Smith probably knew before the season that there would be some bumps in the road as the Bulldogs faced a number of highly-ranked opponents in the first half of the season.

The group's struggles have probably been a bit worse than the Bulldogs expected, however, with Georgia ranking dead last in the SEC in scoring defense (33.7 ppg), eighth in total defense (399 ypg) and forcing just three turnovers by opposing offenses to date.

[+] EnlargeGarrison Smith
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIDE Garrison Smith expected some growing pains, but he says the young UGA defense will continue to improve with more experience.
Smith discussed the defensive struggles this week, as well as teammate Ray Drew's recent emergence two seasons after signing with Georgia as a highly-recruited five-star defensive end.

Here is some of what Smith had to say:

What has been your impression of Ray Drew's play lately?

Garrison Smith: He's doing good. I'm proud of him and I'm glad he's doing good. Like I said, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Everybody can't be a Herschel Walker. Everybody blossoms at different times.

Do you think he just needed to develop some confidence? He came here as such a big prospect -- the only defensive end rated higher than he was in 2011 was Jadeveon Clowney -- and it seemed for a while there like it was reasonable to wonder whether Ray would ever pan out.

Smith: Let's be honest, it kind of messes with you when you're a five-star recruit and you get all this attention and love from the media and public about how good you are, and then all of a sudden you come to college and you're nothing no more. You've got to build yourself all the way back up and you're not playing on that level that you want to play on and then you've got the guy right in front of you playing like he's in the NFL already, Jadeveon Clowney. So that would mess with anybody's self-esteem. But that's why it's like a marathon. It's not about how you start, it's how you finish and he's getting better and better, and that's what it's all about.

Did you deal with that at all? You were a U.S. Army All-American, but it was around the end of your sophomore season before you started to make an impact.

Smith: I knew I was going to have trouble because I came out of a program where I was just taught to go play. My coaches [at Atlanta's Douglass High School, which went 1-9 in Smith's senior season] just told me, 'Go do what you know how to do. Make plays.' So I knew I was going to have trouble, but I was just determined to learn what I had to learn to make me a better player. I just knew that in time, I would get it. I'm getting it. I'm still getting better. I'm getting better every day, so it's that sort of situation, same thing. But I knew how my situation was going to be, so I wasn't surprised or depressed or anything like that.

What is the key factor in you guys becoming more effective at generating turnovers?

Smith: Just patience. Just working hard. That's what it's all about. When we get them sacks, we've got to try to strip the quarterback and just think about it.

Is part of it that the defense is so young?

Smith: It's experience. As you get more comfortable, you're able to do different things. When you're so young and so fresh to the game, you're just trying to not make a mistake and make sure you get the person down.

Is it frustrating to you older players on defense that some of the young guys are having to find their way right now?

Smith: It don't frustrate me because I was that guy at one time, so I can't look down on somebody else. I was once in that situation. I've got a very different outlook because I can see things from both sides of the perspective. That's why I don't point the finger at anyone. I point the finger at myself and the defensive line because we've got to get more pressure on the quarterback to take the pressure off of them. That's how I look at things. I don't ever say, 'It's his fault, it's his fault.' It's not their fault. We've got to do better as a whole.

Drew growing into five-star billing

October, 16, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Ray Drew doesn't like to use the word “doubt” when asked whether his belief that he could become Georgia's team leader in sacks, like he is today, ever wavered. But if there is a leading reason for the philosophical approach the former five-star prospect has taken toward his football career, it's the lack of instant results that marked his first two seasons in college.

“I wouldn't say doubt is the word, but I believe that everyone coming into college, unless you just come in and you're a freshman All-American and you're playing every snap from the time you get here until the time you leave, I believe that there is a wall that every player hits that they'll ask the question, 'Well did I make the right decision?' or maybe 'Am I as good as I thought I was?' or maybe 'I should have done something else,' ” Drew said after Tuesday's practice.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRay Drew, who leads Georgia in tackles for loss and sacks, goes after Missouri QB James Franklin.
“I believe that just comes with the college experience. I don't think that you can avoid it no matter where you're at or what position you play or who you are. It just happens.”

After juggling outside linebacker and defensive end responsibilities in his first season and struggling to adapt to his role on the defensive line for much of his sophomore campaign, Drew is finally starting to touch the potential that ESPN talent evaluators saw in naming him as the nation's No. 13 overall prospect and No. 2 defensive end in the 2011 signing class.

He notched two sacks in each of the Bulldogs' last two games, against Tennessee and Missouri, after logging his first quarterback takedown since 2011 in the Bulldogs' win over LSU. The junior now leads the team in both tackles for a loss (six) and sacks (five) and registered a season-high seven tackles against Missouri.

“He's made a big difference,” said linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who was a member of Drew's 2011 signing class. “He's getting a lot of sacks and he's becoming the D-lineman that everybody knew he could be.”

That's a credit to Drew's perseverance, as it wasn't long ago that it was reasonable to wonder whether he might never live up to his billing.

The only defensive end rated higher in that class was South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney. But while Clowney was an instant hit with the Gamecocks and became an obvious NFL prospect early in his career, Drew's learning curve was much steeper. The comparison to Clowney and other elite prospects who were contributing earlier in their careers didn't help Drew's confidence either.

“Let's be honest, it kind of messes with you when you're a five-star recruit and you get all this attention and love from the media and public about how good you are, and then all of a sudden you come to college and you're nothing no more,” senior defensive end Garrison Smith said.

“You've got to build yourself all the way back up and you're not playing on that level that you want to play on, and then you've got the guy right in front of you playing like he's in the NFL already, Jadeveon Clowney. So that would mess with anybody's self-esteem.

“But that's why it's like a marathon. It's not about how you start, it's how you finish and he's getting better and better, and that's what it's all about.”

Drew is certainly on pace for a strong finish. He has started four of the last five games after failing to start once in his first two seasons. And his 22 tackles this season have nearly matched his career total (31) prior to this season.

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said Tuesday that Drew is “becoming a little bit of a force” and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham added that “finally the light clicked on and now he's playing the way we felt he could play.”

Not that every Bulldog is necessarily happy about Drew's status as the team's sack leader.

“We can't let Ray lead us in sacks,” laughed outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins. “We gave them sacks away because we're coming off the edge and he steps up right into Ray's hands. But I can't discredit Ray. He definitely came a long way and he's always a fighter, he understands the plays and he understands what to do and he's just balling out there. But we can't let him have the lead by the end of the season.”

With only one sack to his credit so far, Jenkins has a lot of sacking to do if he is to catch up to Drew.

That might come as a surprise to most who follow Georgia's program -- and maybe to Drew himself -- but Drew said before the season that he planned to stop putting so much pressure on himself. That approach seems to be paying off.

“I would say that [my first two seasons were] helpful,” Drew said. “They've been informative -- helped me learn more about myself as a player and they've helped me growing not only as a football player, but as a person, as well, because up to this time in the football world, I really hadn't had to face any adversity. So now being in the position that I am, I think it made me a stronger person.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- James Franklin's reputation as a physical runner precedes him to the point that Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins knows his nickname is “The Tank.”

“If you let him get going a little bit, he's going to be a hard guy for some of the smaller linebackers and DBs to tackle,” Jenkins said of Franklin, who will lead Missouri's potent offense against the Bulldogs on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMissouri quarterback James Franklin poses a threat to the Georgia defense because of his ability to scramble outside the pocket.
At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Franklin presents a different challenge than most dual-threat quarterbacks the No. 7 Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0 SEC) have faced in recent seasons. He is a capable passer and is quick enough on his feet, but it's his willingness to run over defenders that separates him from signal-callers who mix some runs in with their passing skills.

Keeping Franklin bottled up -- and getting him on the ground -- will be a major test for Georgia's shaky defense. No prideful defensive player wants to get flattened by a quarterback, but Franklin has already done his share of flattening.

He comes in averaging 5.2 yards per carry as one piece of Missouri's four-pronged rushing attack that leads the SEC with an average of 258.8 yards per game.

“He's a quarterback. If he comes my way, I'm going to try to kill him. That's just it,” Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “I've seen games where he does lower his shoulder like that. That's the last thing you want to do is get run over by a quarterback.”

Georgia has faced plenty of dual-threat quarterbacks since Todd Grantham became the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator in 2010 and has experienced mixed results against the group as a whole. They were 5-5 in his first two seasons against BCS-conference quarterbacks who rushed for at least 200 yards in a season – surrendering at least 70 rushing yards to a quarterback four times in those 10 games.

Overall, the Bulldogs have done a better job limiting the damage against dual-threat quarterbacks since then, surrendering 70 rushing yards to a quarterback twice -- both times it was South Carolina's Connor Shaw -- and posting an 8-2 record against teams whose offenses utilized a mobile quarterback.

That includes a 41-20 win against Franklin and Missouri last season, when Georgia did its best to take away the run and force Franklin to try and win with his arm. He threw 41 passes that game, completing 25 for 269 yards and two scores, but picked up only 25 rushing yards on 20 attempts.

“Last year our focus was really making him play quarterback and not run over [us] because all we heard from the reports was that he was a big quarterback, he could move and that he's just a guy that's not easy to take down,” Jenkins said. “We're just really going to try and focus on keeping him in the pocket at times.”

Largely while trying to pass from the pocket, Franklin absorbed a Jarvis Jones-led beating that night in Columbia that affected him for the rest of the season. Jones harassed Missouri's quarterback into multiple turnovers and hit him hard enough that Franklin missed the following week's game against Arizona State. Truthfully, Franklin was not the same player for the rest of the season, as injuries set in and prevented him from playing the physical style that suits him best.

“The Tank” seems to be back, however, as Franklin has led No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0) to an undefeated start by passing for 1,407 yards and 13 touchdowns against three interceptions and rushing for 278 yards and two scores.

“James is healthy and he's more confident. He's running well. ... He's standing in the pocket with a lot of confidence and he's very accurate,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of Franklin, who is completing 68 percent of his passes. “He's on target and he looks like he's in his element.”

Taking him out of his element for a second straight season will be the goal for Georgia's defense -- but it must do so without Jones around to wreak havoc in the Mizzou backfield. In fact, only three starters remain from the group that took the field last season in Columbia, so Franklin and the rest of Missouri's explosive spread offense appear to be a major match-up challenge for Grantham's young defense.

“Anytime you've got a quarterback that can run the ball in the spread, they make you defend the entire field with the formations and with what they're doing,” Grantham said. “Anytime the quarterback runs the ball, you've got truly 11-on-11 and he can create an extra gap, so when you do that, you obviously create some issues that you've got to address.”

Shaw and Clemson's Tajh Boyd, both talented dual-threat quarterbacks, exploited those issues and enjoyed success against the Bulldogs earlier this season.

Defensive lineman Garrison Smith emphasized that the Bulldogs don't necessarily need a performance like the one Jones delivered last season in order to fare better against Franklin, but that his fellow defenders must play with improved discipline. The Bulldogs must do a more consistent job of playing their assignments correctly on Saturday, or the Tigers will almost certainly put together another explosive offensive showing.

“You've got to make individual plays,” Grantham said. “This game is about winning one-on-one matchups and when you get into those situations, you've got to make it.”

ATHENS, Ga. -- If Aaron Murray's work on Georgia's final touchdown drive against LSU looked precise, it's because he and the Bulldogs' offense have had more than enough practice in such situations to help it appear so seamless.

Certainly a fifth-year quarterback should have a full grasp of his offensive scheme -- and clearly he did in completing all four of his passes for 55 yards on a drive that ended with Justin Scott-Wesley's 25-yard touchdown catch -- but a variety of factors beyond competent quarterback play helped the Bulldogs earn their game-winning score.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/John BazemoreGeorgia quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown for 11 touchdowns and three interceptions this season.
“No. 1, there's a lot of maturity on the offensive side of the football, a lot of guys that have been in situations, been in big games – maybe not like a situation to that exact degree, but they've been in situations where they've had pressure moments and made plays,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “I think they were able to fall back on some of that experience.”

It's also easy for the group to maintain its confidence when it has enjoyed such a high level of success. Despite already playing three top-10 opponents, Georgia is sixth nationally in total offense with an average of 554 yards per game.

“The week before versus North Texas when it was, 'Were y'all panicking when it was 21-21 all of a sudden,?' I was like, 'No, we were fine.' We're a very mature group of guys,” Murray said. “We feel like we're one of the best offenses in the country and we can score when we want. When we take each play at a time and stay focused on that play, we're very confident that we can do some special things on the field. So we're not worried at all. We're like, 'Hey, it's our time to go out there and score. We've done this before. Let's relax and go out there and play.' "

It helps that Murray and the offense -- a group that remains largely intact from the 2012 group that broke Georgia's all-time scoring record -- have already been in these situations plenty of times in practices and in games.

Of course the two-minute drive from 2012 that sits front-and-center in most Georgia fans' minds is one that was unsuccessful – the one that died inside Alabama's 5-yard line in the SEC championship game with a spot in the BCS national title game on the line. But the Bulldogs actually thrived in such situations last fall, driving to score six times inside the final two minutes of a half, often in close games where the they desperately needed a shot in the arm.

“I think it has a lot to do with age,” Murray said. “Last year, we had a bunch of one-minute drives. At Clemson this year, we had a one-minute drive, so we've done it before.”

There is certainly some advantage that comes with experience in high-pressure situations. Of the 11 Bulldogs on the field when Scott-Wesley scored the game-winning touchdown, nine have been at Georgia for at least three seasons – and the time spent working together, developing a working knowledge of what Bobo might call with a game on the line, paid off.

“That's definitely not the first time I've seen that drive. I've seen that drive a couple times in 7-on-7s, I've seen it a couple times in practice,” receiver Chris Conley said. “The funny thing is I can actually recall the times I've seen us execute that -- not the same set of plays, but I've seen it work out like that in other situations. It was quite artistic."

In truth, Georgia's offense has struggled more when it works on two-minute situations in practice, Bobo said. The coaches often make the practice scenarios as difficult as possible -- like maybe they must drive 70 yards for a touchdown without a timeout at their disposal -- and force Murray and the offense to go to work.

“I will say that over this past year-and-a-half, we've put the offense in some very stressful situations in practice where you've had to overcome in practice and you've had to make plays and you've had to execute,” Conley said. “I think that the offense has done a great job of practicing in those situations and making the plays. I think it's helped us when we're in the game.”

Bobo said the offense only gets the high-pressure touchdown about 20 percent of the time in the challenging practice scenarios. But it still had two timeouts available and didn't even need them in order to drive for the winning points in the actual game against LSU.

Out of the five plays preceding Scott-Wesley's touchdown, four achieved first downs. The other, a 9-yard completion to tight end Arthur Lynch, nearly moved the chains. And an 18-yard run by freshman J.J. Green on the final play before the touchdown pass caught the Tigers' defense completely off guard just as much as Murray's scoring pass to a wide-open Scott-Wesley.

It was as precise as one could possibly expect an offense to function considering the situation, and the Bulldogs pulled it all off perfectly.

Scott-Wesley credited the offense's balance between a collection of playmakers for forcing defenses to cover the whole field. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said the offensive line's protection on that drive and throughout the game helped Murray stay clean to complete key passes. And Bobo added that the collective intellect within the group allows him keep his entire playbook open when necessary.

Those were only some of the factors that helped Georgia scorch LSU for 494 yards overall and blow past the Tigers on the final possession. When that collection of factors all click together like they did on last Saturday's final drive, the Bulldogs might be as impressive as any offense in the country.

“It was amazing,” defensive lineman Garrison Smith said. “Murray looked like Tom Brady out there. He looked like he was just leading the troops, marching them down the field, and they made some big plays. That's what it's all about.”


ATHENS, Ga. -- With new coordinator Cam Cameron in charge, LSU's offense this season is more diverse than it has been in several years -- and yet the overriding philosophy remains the same.

“If we don't slow down the run game,” Georgia coach Mark Richt told a caller on his Monday night radio show, “it's going to be a long day for Georgia.”

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Bulldogs must slow down LSU tailback Jeremy Hill, who has rushed for 350 yards and six touchdowns this season.
When Richt's Bulldogs last faced LSU -- in the 2011 SEC championship game -- LSU completed only five passes for a total of 30 yards, but the Tigers' stable of running backs combined for 207 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-10 victory.

Their pound-the-rock strategy was in place last season, as well, with quarterback Zach Mettenberger's 12 touchdown passes tying for the fewest among regular starters in the SEC and the Tigers relying on Jeremy Hill and the other tailbacks to make their offense go.

“Ain't no trickery, ain't no razzle-dazzle,” Georgia defensive lineman Garrison Smith said. “It's just all about playing the best you can and seeing who's going to make the fewest mistakes.”

On the occasions where that physical approach wasn't enough, LSU's offense bogged down, with the Tigers ranking 10th in the SEC in total offense (374.2 yards per game) and 11th in passing (200.5 ypg). LSU's defense was as imposing as ever, but its lack of offensive creativity was a clear liability.

Enter former NFL coordinator Cameron, who still leans heavily on Hill and the running game, but has helped Mettenberger (1,026 passing yards, 10 TDs, one interception through four games) rank among the nation's most improved quarterbacks. The senior is eighth nationally with an 88.3 Total QBR, up substantially from his dismal 47.1 rating a season ago.

“Sometimes a guy has a coach that may have a tremendous scheme, but doesn't really have a feel for how to handle your quarterback. You better handle him properly,” Richt said. “Cam's been doing that forever, and he's been doing it at all levels of ball. I'm just very impressed with what he's doing.”

It helps that Mettenberger has two impressive receivers at his disposal in Odell Beckham Jr. (third in the SEC with 97.2 receiving ypg) and Jarvis Landry (fourth, 91.0) -- a duo who make it difficult for an opponent to sell out to stop the run. And Mettenberger's continued development -- he's completing 64.8 percent of his passes and averaging 11.28 yards per attempt compared to 58.8 and 7.4 in 2012 -- makes LSU even more of a test at all levels of a defense.

“[Georgia, LSU and Alabama] run the ball very well, and I think that's what opened up the downfield passing game,” Georgia cornerback Damian Swann said. “Because once you're done trying to stack the box on a team that can throw the ball like [Georgia's Aaron] Murray can, like [Alabama's AJ] McCarron can, like Zach can, that's when people beat you.”

Nonetheless, the Bulldogs know that their defense won't have a prayer on Saturday if it fails to match LSU's physicality up front.

Slowing down the Tigers' running game remains every opposing defense's first objective, but it is not a particularly easy goal to accomplish. Auburn certainly knew Hill was the top player it had to stop last Saturday and LSU's bellcow back still rolled up 184 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-21 win.

Neutralizing LSU's running game will be the Bulldogs' first objective on Saturday, coming off an impressive performance against North Texas where Georgia allowed the Mean Green to accumulate just 7 rushing yards on 25 attempts. It's a difficult goal to meet, but if they can pull it off, the Bulldogs' chances of victory increase exponentially.

“That's just the style of football that they play with Les Miles being an offensive guy, and that's how he likes to run it” Swann said. “He's going to line it up and run it at you. You just have to prepare for it.

“You have to tackle well, you have to play your gaps well -- everything has to be fundamentally sound because it's not going to be no trickeration going on. It's going to be line up, smashmouth football. You have to be ready for that.”

UGA D-line seeks more consistency

September, 6, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Like most of Georgia's defense, the Bulldogs' line had its moments of competence -- and even solid play -- in last Saturday's season-opening loss at Clemson.

The problem across the board was that there weren't enough of those moments, and the line knows it must turn in a more consistent performance with South Carolina's physical rushing attack on tap Saturday.

“We didn't tackle that good in the last game, so we're just trying to come out and just get ready for South Carolina,” Georgia defensive end Toby Johnson said. “Them boys, they like to run the ball a lot, so obviously we've got to tackle.”

Led by tailback Mike Davis, who might have wound up at Georgia had Todd Gurley not committed to the Bulldogs first, South Carolina pounded North Carolina for 228 rushing yards and 6 yards per carry in last week's opener. Included in Davis' 115 rushing yards was a 75-yard touchdown run that cemented the Gamecocks' 27-10 victory.

“He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s tough,” Georgia nose guard Mike Thornton said of Davis, his former teammate at Atlanta's Stephenson High School. “He’s a tough runner.”

To contend with Davis' power running and South Carolina's NFL-sized offensive line, Georgia's defensive front also must be tougher following its uneven results in Week 1.

[+] EnlargeGarrison Smith
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesGarrison Smith, a 6-foot-3, 299-pound senior, is now listed as Georgia's starting nose guard.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Clemson ran 36 times on designed runs inside the tackles for 158 yards (4.4 YPC) and a touchdown last Saturday. That number would look more impressive were it not for a 36-yard run by Rod McDowell in the fourth quarter to set up Clemson's final touchdown.

“We swarmed to the ball as a defense, especially our linebackers, but for the most part we missed a lot of big tackles,” Johnson said. “That goes with me, I missed a big sack. So we've just got to wrap up and keep our head up and keep your feet.”

Considering that it was the first college game for a couple of Georgia linemen and the first heavy dose of playing time for a couple more, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he actually came away feeling encouraged after watching film of the group's debut effort.

“I thought there was some good things. At times they were stout and did the things we had to do. We’re so young, we’ve got to continue to work on our techniques and our fundamentals to be consistent in our play,” Grantham said. “I walked away thinking that if we can build on this, we’ll be fine. And really I walked away as that for the whole unit from that standpoint after watching the tape.”

The Bulldogs practiced in full pads Tuesday and Wednesday in an effort to work more on shedding blocks and tackling. They also shuffled their depth chart, placing Garrison Smith as the starting nose guard and Sterling Bailey and Josh Dawson as the starting ends, although Grantham insisted that making a fuss over players' positional labels is “so overrated” in his scheme that shifts between a traditional 3-4 base defense and a nickel look that deploys four players along the line.

Nonetheless, Smith played in the interior of the line for much of the Clemson game and felt he performed well, even if his 299-pound frame is considerably smaller than Georgia's 2012 nose men, John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers.

“I ain’t the size of a double-wide trailer like John Jenkins and Kwame. I’m like a dually [truck] and they’re like an 18-wheeler ... a big Mack truck, Freightliners,” Smith said. “It’s a big difference between our sizes, but I just do it the best I can.”

It should help that new line coach Chris Wilson seems prepared to follow through on his plan to use more players up front. Thornton said the Clemson game was “was the most we’ve ever rotated since I’ve been here.”

And it made a difference in the players' energy levels, as Clemson's offensive play count built and the game reached its latter stages.

“It’s a noticeable difference when you know you’ve got somebody that can come in and play a couple snaps for you, and you don’t have to worry about getting so winded and getting so tired,” Smith said. “You can get a couple plays off and be able to go back in and be able to keep playing hard.”

Whoever is in the game along Georgia's line will have one main challenge come Saturday. South Carolina arrives each week planning to dominate the line of scrimmage, and the Bulldogs must play a tougher, more consistent brand of defense if they are to end a three-game losing streak against the Gamecocks.

“Something that’s going to pop up on the film whenever you look at it and just see how big and physical they are,” Dawson said. “You’ve just got to match them.”

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