ATHENS – Three current and former Georgia defensive coordinators will be on hand Saturday night when the Bulldogs play at Auburn.
On one side, of course, will be Todd Grantham, in his third season as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. On the other side: Grantham’s two immediate predecessors.
Willie Martinez, a member of Georgia’s coaching staff from 2001-09 and defensive coordinator from 2005-09, is in his first season as Auburn’s defensive backs coach. Brian VanGorder, Georgia’s defensive coordinator from 2001-04, is in his first season as defensive coordinator at Auburn, his fourth employer since leaving UGA.
VanGorder left Athens on his own accord for a job as linebackers coach with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. After one season in Jacksonville, VanGorder spent a year as head coach at Georgia Southern and five years with the Falcons, the first as linebackers coach and the last four as defensive coordinator.
Martinez, fired by Georgia coach Mark Richt after the 2009 regular season, was Oklahoma’s secondary coach in 2010-11.
VanGorder and Martinez were on Richt’s first staff at Georgia. Richt was asked this week if it’ll feel weird to compete against them.
“All I know is, I love both of them. I love their families,” Richt said. “But I think we all know we’ve got to prepare our teams to play ball, and that’s what will be going on from kickoff to the end.”
Richt made clear his respect for his former coordinators.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for their ability, especially as a tandem, to figure out what you like to do best (offensively) and make you do something that you’re a little uncomfortable doing,” Richt said.
But Auburn’s defense, like the rest of the 2-7 (0-6 SEC) team, has struggled this season.
The Tigers rank last in the SEC in rushing defense, ninth in pass defense and 10th in scoring defense. They held LSU to 12 points on Sept. 22 but later gave up 41 to Ole Miss and 63 to Texas A&M.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said he doesn’t think the Auburn defensive coaches’ former UGA jobs will help them prepare to face the Bulldogs’ offense, noting that it has changed a lot even since Martinez’s last season on staff three years ago.
“Every single year we add more and more and more plays,” Murray said. “He wasn’t here when we were doing the no-huddle … and the up-tempo.”
Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings, a fifth-year senior, looks forward to seeing Martinez on Saturday, or to Martinez seeing him.
“It’ll be fun playing against my old defensive coach,” Commings said. “… It’ll be a fun game to showcase my talents to him.”
Georgia offensive lineman Chris Burnette, the starting right guard, who left last week’s game against Ole Miss with a left shoulder injury, remains questionable for the Auburn game.
“We’re just not sure,” Richt said Tuesday.
After Burnette’s first-half injury, starting left tackle Kenarious Gates played mostly right guard in the second half against Ole Miss, with Mark Beard taking over at left tackle.
“I was comfortable moving over there,” Gates said. “I have fun at both (guard and tackle).”