ATHENS – You’ll get no wishy-washy answers from Georgia’s defensive players when asked how they feel about playing Georgia Southern and its vaunted triple-option attack this Saturday. Cornerback Sanders Commings probably summarized their sentiments most succinctly.
“It sucks, to be honest,” said the senior from Augusta.
Now add in the fact that the Bulldogs will be facing this exact scheme for two consecutive weeks. The Eagles run the same “spread option” system that Georgia Tech has perfected under coach Paul Johnson. Jeff Monken, Georgia Southern’s head the last three years, worked for Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech going back to 1997.
So the good news is facing the Eagles in Game 11 should prepare Georgia well for facing the Yellow Jackets in Game 12. But the bad news is while the Bulldogs will be deeply mired in the intricacies of reading and reacting to the “counter trey” for the next two weeks, they’ll do so knowing they’ll face nothing of the sort in the SEC Championship game.
Georgia (9-1, 7-1 SEC) clinched the SEC’s Eastern Division title this past Saturday and is expected to face No. 4 Alabama and its pro-style attack in the conference championship on Dec. 1 in the Georgia Dome.
“We’ve just got to worry about that when the time comes,” coach Mark Richt said at his weekly news conference Tuesday. “We can’t do anything other than defend who we are going to play. So that’s what we’re doing. When that’s through, we’ll have to change gears again, certainly. . . . Some of the schemes and responsibilities will be vastly different, there’s no doubt about that. But if we don’t focus on this we’ll get embarrassed badly.”
Said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham: “It’s probably not the best scenario, but it’s the hand we’re dealt and we’re going to play it. And we’ll be fine. It just so happens we’ve got to face this style of offense two weeks in a row.”
For the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs, it’s not so much the fear of playing the option as it is the dread. For one, the Eagles are going to pile up yards no matter who they play. They rolled up 302 yards rushing and scored 21 points in a loss against eventual national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa last year. They come into the Georgia game averaging 401 yards rushing and scored 69 points in a win over Howard. Secondly, a key component for the offense is the cut block. Linemen at Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech are taught to dive at defenders knees and get them on the ground by any means possible. It’s especially tough on big defensive linemen, who are used to more of a hand-to-hand-combat style of play.
Senior noseguard John Jenkins went as far to say he thinks “it’s cheating.”
“They just chop your knees and they grab your leg and roll up on you and hold your leg. That’s no fun,” said the 6-foot-3, 358-pound lineman. “I can’t knock what they do. They do it legally. But it shouldn’t be legal.”
The ethics of it aside, both Southern and Tech cut block well. And therefore Georgia is doing everything it can to get ready for it. For starters, the Bulldogs held a rare full-contact practice on a Monday, a day normally reserved for a light, walk-through workout in sweatsuits. Instead, Georgia coaches had the defense lining up in drills turf practice fields taking on cut block after cut block. The Bulldogs were in full pads as usual on Tuesday and Richt said they may break from routine and do it Wednesday and Thursday as well.
“You have to be able to defend that block and stay on your feet,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “(Monday) it was wet and rainy and we were all getting cut for the first time. We needed that just to see how rough it can be if you’re not ready to defend it.”
The Bulldogs did a decent job the last time they saw it. The Jackets gained 355 yards, including 243 yards rushing on 53 carries, and Georgia won 31-17.
They would like to do better this go-around, and the timing of these last two games is no accidet. It had to fit into the Eagles’ schedule, too, but Georgia liked the idea of getting an FCS preview of the spread option before facing their FBS archrivals.
“It just ended up working out that’s where it got placed,” Richt said. “But if you’re going to play that type of offense twice in a season, it’s probably better to do it back-to-back than in Game 4 and Game 9. . . . It’s probably not a bad thing, but we’ll see how the results end up.”
Last year, Georgia lost defensive end DeAngelo Tyson for the rest of the season to an ankle injury due to a cut block against Georgia Tech. Jenkins, who projects as an NFL first-round draft pick after this season, was reminded of that watching tape this week.
“At the high school level, that’s one thing; at the college level, that’s people’s livelihood, and it’s a different way to look at it when you’re toying with people’s livelihoods,” Jenkins said.I’ve read stories about people getting cut the wrong way and they no longer can play football. They’re using football to feed their family, so it’s kind strange and different.