November 15, 2011

Turnover margin key

Win the turnover battle, win the game.

That's been one of the recipes for success for Georgia who are currently on an eight-game victory streak heading into what the Bulldogs hopes is the SEC-East clincher Saturday afternoon against Kentucky (12:21, SEC Network).

In Georgia's eights win, the Bulldogs have won the turnover battle each time.

"The turnover battle for sure. That's No. 1. We certainly lost it against South Carolina. If we had won the turnover battle that day we might have won that game, too," head coach Mark Richt said. "The funny thing is, you spend hours on schemes - offense, defense and special teams - you're grinding, but the most important thing you can do is secure the ball or disrupt the ball on defense."

That's where defensive coordinator Todd Grantham comes in.

The Bulldogs currently rank second in the SEC in turnover margin at a plus-9. SEC-West leading LSU leads the conference with a plus-15.

For the year, Georgia has forced 29 fumbles, recovering 10, while intercepting 13 passes, including seven by free safety Bacarri Rambo.

To Grantham the ability to cause turnovers doesn't happen by accident.

"I think that first of all, when I go back and look, the quarterback handles the ball every snap, so your ability to affect the quarterback is very critical in that sense," Grantham said. "In my 11 years in pro ball we always studied who fumbled the ball the most on the offense, and the quarterback position fumbled it more than anybody else on the team. In the passing game he has to make decisions depending on the coverage, so it gets down to affecting the quarterback and that can come a lot of ways."

For example:

"No. 1, is stopping the run and being good on the run; forcing them to throw it or get them in a situation to throw it and you know that," Grantham said. "Then you've got to be able to pressure the quarterback, re-route guys, get them off their spot and give the quarterback a picture, take it away and give him something else."

Georgia is well on its way to bettering its numbers from a season ago.

In 2010, the Bulldogs recovered 10 fumbles all year and intercepted 16 passes, while finishing the season with a margin of plus-10.

The 29 sacks are already five more than the team recorded all of last year.

"We've probably caused more caused fumbles than last, we've also gotten more sacks, so the guy hasn't had a chance to get rid of the ball, either," Grantham said of the success. "I just think it's a combination of being able to continue what we've done, but affecting the quarterback is critical to getting turnovers and that's in a lot of ways, it's not just rush but coverage and everything."

Crowell's early absence explained

Freshman running back Isaiah Crowell is learning very quickly what it's like to be playing in a fishbowl.

So when the former Carver star was not present for the first three periods of practice Tuesday, it obviously raised the collective eyebrow of the media, who were allowed to watch the workouts during that time.

Not to worry.

Crowell would return to practice, and according to position coach Bryan McClendon, it was not a big deal.

"He was there," McClendon assured. "He had some stuff to do in the training room and they got him out there as soon as he was done with it."

The reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, Crowell rushed 24 times for 134 yards, followed close behind by Carlton Thomas who picked up 124 yards on 15 carries.

McClendon said look for the pair to continue splitting the time moving forward.

"Isaiah ended up with a few more plays, but they almost split the reps down the middle this past game," he said. "I think that definitely had something to do with both of them playing well. I think we've just got to keep going the way we're going."

Malcome pushing Harton for No. 3

McClendon said that redshirt freshman Ken Malcome is in fact pushing Brandon Harton for the No. 3 tailback spot.

"Both of those guys are doing a good job of battling just as far as trying to be that next guy," McClendon said. "Both of those guys had good days of practice today. Ken practiced real well; we've just got to see who takes care of the game plan, then go out and do it."

McClendon acknowledged it's been a difficult year for Malcome, who told UGASports that an unspecified personal problem has been weighing heavily on his mind.

"The things he was going through at that time, it would have affected anybody to be honest, no matter your age," McClendon said. "Obviously it was going to take some things to get him through it. But everybody has been working together and we're going to get him through it. He's coming through it nicely, and has been practicing and playing well right now."

McClendon said Malcome, who rushed three times for 10 yards against Auburn, is doing everything he's been asked.

"Definitely," he said. "Ken's going out there and I've been real pleased with the way he's working and working himself back into the mix of things."

This and that

Offensive line coach Will Friend says he does not expect to have starting guard Dallas Lee back until the Bulldogs' bowl game. … Richt said he was pleased with Tuesday's two-and-a-half hour practice in full pads ahead of Saturday's game against Kentucky. "We're excited about the possibility of winning the SEC Eastern Division championship," said Richt. "That's the goal: win the game and if we win that game we're in. We know what's at stake. I think our guys are going to continue to stay focused throughout the week. I can't imagine them going backwards now. We're in a good place right now. I just hope we continue to prepare well and play well."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]