November 9, 2011

Defense expects a test



Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said when going against a Gus Malzahn-coached offense, there's a checklist of details one has to be ready to fulfill.

He admits it's not easy.

"You've got know your calls. Things happen pretty fast," Grantham said. "You've got to know your fits, they'll test you with formations. You've got to be able to leverage the ball in the perimeter and make sure it doesn't break out. It's all about knowing the game plan."

Malzahn and Auburn certainly don't believe in taking their time.

The 24th-ranked Tigers (6-3, 4-2) are a tempo-drive offense, meaning they'll run as many plays, just as quickly as they can in an effort not only to put added pressure on opposing defenses, but limiting the time opposing coordinators like Grantham are able to make adjustments between snaps.

Coupled with the fact that Malzahn is roundly considered one of, if not the, better offensive innovators in the SEC, Auburn typically presents defensive coordinators like Grantham with a whole new set of challenges.

But as far as being able to withstand the pace, the Georgia coaches don't appear to be too concerned about that.

"They're other teams that try to that in the SEC. We'll be ready for it," Grantham said. "Our offense did it all preseason, too. So we've worked on it, it won't be like we haven't seen it. I don't think it's going to be a big deal."

Neither does head coach Mark Richt.

"I think we're in good condition. I think we've benefitted from very mild weather. Most of our games have been where it hasn't been extremely hot, and I think that's helped us. We're in the time of the year where it's very cool. You have TV timeouts happening all the time. It's almost hard to get tired out there," he said. "When a team like that starts running their offense and they don't substitute, which means we can't substitute and they get a couple of first downs back to back, you are going to get some people tired, especially the big interior defensive linemen. That's been part of our strategy too. If you run off about four, five or six plays in a row without changing personnel and without having to punt somewhere along the way, you'll get some guys a little bit tired."

From a schematic standpoint, Grantham said Auburn is basically running the same offense with new quarterback Clint Moseley that it did last year with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.

"They run the same offense, just obviously they've got a different guy at quarterback," Grantham said. "They try to get some of those types of runs, but they just can't do it with just one person. But really, schematically, they are the same as they've been in the past and their players understand the concepts and do a good job with it."

One thing Tiger coach Gene Chizik said Auburn must improve on to beat Georgia is third-down conversions.

Auburn ranks eight in the SEC in that very important department, converting 37 (46 of 124) percent of their third-down attempts. Georgia, on the other hand, is second in the conference in allowing third down conversions at 28 percent (35 of 125).

Georgia gave up the highest percentage of third down conversions in the league a season ago.

"Our third down conversions might be the most striking difference from a year ago statistically. We weren't very good at getting people off the field, and now we are. That's really another reason why you don't see as many rushing yards because we are getting them off the field, and when you do that they aren't scoring," Richt said. "I think offensively, we've scored enough early enough to get people a little bit concerned about staying with the game plan. If their plan going in was to run the rock, once you get behind a little bit it's harder to do that. You feel like you are less patient. I think you have to score points offensively too to get people to feel like they have to throw the ball more than they would like to. All those things together I think have been a big reason."

Georgia figures to get tested by the Auburn run game, ranked second in the SEC averaging 191 yards per game, primarily on the legs of sophomore Michael Dyer (186-989-9) and Onterio McCalebb (84-484-2).

The Bulldogs' defense ranks third in rushing defense (91.1 yards) and third in total defense (282 yards).

"The biggest thing is our players have developed a mental and physical toughness to play every play as hard as they can. It doesn't matter what happened the last play, play the next play," Grantham said. "I also think you factor that with them understanding the system, believing in what we're doing and buying in, working hard every day, I think the more you invest in something the harder it is to turn it down. When you invest what our players have invested since the start of January it's harder to not keep pushing forward to do whatever you have to do to be successful."

That obviously includes playing with the type of aggression that Grantham demands, albeit within the rules.

"You can play physical and you can play fast and we do that. Really, we really haven't been penalized this year," he said. "We play within the framework of the rules and we play relentless every play, go back to the huddle and play the next play."

Grantham certainly doesn't expect a repeat of last year's game against Auburn when both teams were flagged for a combined 11 personal fouls in the Tigers 49-31 win.

Especially, he said, with the Bulldogs (7-2, 5-1) currently in the first place in the East and with a chance to perhaps clinch a spot in the SEC title game with a win Saturday afternoon (3:30, CBS).

"That was a long time ago. We're focused. We've got a vision on something else. It's another game, it's going to be competitive, they're a good team," Grantham said. "It's an important game because it's the next game, but other than that you just go play. Stuff like that doesn't factor into what we're doing. We're focusing on the game and doing what we have to do to win it."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.