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Defense adjusts on fly to halt UF

ATHENS, Ga. -- There were times in Saturday's Georgia-Florida game when Gators quarterback John Brantley seemed baffled by the Bulldogs' defensive looks.

"That's kind of the idea," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said with a chuckle after the Bulldogs' 24-20 win over the rival Gators.

Grantham's Bulldogs were caught off guard early in the game, when Florida's offense -- coming off two weeks of preparation -- did something it hadn't done all year. The Gators operated with an empty backfield and four- and five-receiver sets in an effort to help the hobbled Brantley make quick passes to protect his injured leg.

Grantham said the Bulldogs had not prepared much for that style of offense, since it was a brand new look for the Gators, and Georgia has not played many teams that used those sets on a regular basis.

To begin defending it effectively, the Bulldogs had to make immediate adjustments on the sideline and in the locker room at halftime.

"They came out in their empty stuff, and they really had not done that to that extent," Grantham said. "And really with a banged-up quarterback, it's really a better thing to do, because it's easier for him just to get rid of the ball quick. And so we had to adjust as the game went along.

"We were able to adjust our coverages and adjust what we were doing and really affect the quarterback. I was really proud of the way the guys kept playing."

Initially, the Gators had their way on offense, thanks in large part to a 72-yard catch and run by Jeff Demps and a 31-yard touchdown catch by Jordan Reed, who beat inside linebacker Alec Ogletree on a route down the middle of the field.

Brantley passed for 164 yards in the first quarter and had 226 passing yards at halftime, but after the Gators' initial flurry of offense, Grantham went deep into the defensive playbook to make some adjustments to combat Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis' scheme.

The Bulldogs had worked on defending empty-backfield looks during preseason camp, and Grantham asked them to recall that preparation from several months ago.

"Percentage-wise, you're going to work on the things you see on tape. But in training camp, like I've always said, you have to have the ability to go through your packages and work," Grantham said. "So what happened is, we had to pull out some stuff from training camp that we had done that we really didn't have a need for, because you always have to have a balance of how much can you work and execute."

Georgia began mixing coverages, dropping defenders off the line and confusing Florida's quarterback, who completed only 2 of 14 passes for 19 yards in the second half and led the Gators to only one first down.

"We had guys dropping that you probably wouldn't think would drop," Ogletree said.

It helped that Georgia was manhandling the Gators up front, holding Florida's rushing attack to minus-19 yards and harassing Brantley with six sacks -- four from Butkus Award semifinalist outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

Because his injured ankle limited his mobility, Brantley had to operate mostly out of the shotgun, and because the Gators were in the shotgun, it was even more difficult for Florida to move the ball on the ground.

"We couldn't get him under center to do some of the things we wanted to do, we knew that going into the game," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "We felt like we had some things in the throwing game, and that's why we stayed with what we wanted to do in that situation. We have to find some ways to run the football."

By accomplishing Grantham's first goal of making Florida's offense one-dimensional, the Bulldogs focused more on defending the pass, and the throws that were open for Brantley early in the game suddenly had defenders clogging the passing lanes.

Brantley said in Florida's postgame news conference that none of Georgia's defensive looks came as a surprise, but many of his second-half incompletions missed badly.

Jones credited his coaches for finding an answer to what the Gators were trying to accomplish.

"We've got some great coaches. It didn't take long," said Jones, who now leads the SEC in sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (14). "[Grantham] knew what he was doing, but he waited until the second half to change it up a little bit, so that's what we did and I think it worked great."

Grantham praised his players for their ability to adapt to the in-game adjustments. Florida easily could have opened a huge lead early in the game, but the defense kept the Gators out of the end zone twice in the first quarter after they penetrated deep inside Georgia territory and then stoned the Gators the rest of the way.

"Give the players credit now, because we were making adjustments on the sidelines, we added some things on the sideline to shut them down," Grantham said.

"You've got to do that, though, because in this league, everybody's multiple, and when somebody tries to exploit you a different way, you've got to be able to handle it. That's why you have to work on multiple things and have answers, and you've got to be able to adjust, and our players adjusted and they went out and executed."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.