ATHENS — Georgia’s John Jenkins swears he doesn’t know if he has an insurance policy on himself against career-ending injury. But the projected NFL draft first-rounder told reporters Tuesday he planned to check on it this week.
Playing Georgia Southern will do that a defensive lineman. The Eagles, who play the Bulldogs Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Sanford Stadium, run the exact same triple-option offense that Georgia Tech runs to such great effect. Their head coach, Jeff Monken, has been with Tech coach Paul Johnson since they were running the “spread option” together at Georgia Southern back in 1997. And an integral part of that system is the cut block.
So with their SEC Championship goals on hold for now, the Bulldogs will get two weeks worth of being blocked at the knees. Preparations started with a rare full-pads practice Monday night and coach Mark Richt said Tuesday they might practice in full pads all week. All of it is to prepare for array of cuts and chops they will experience.
“I really don’t like that type of offense where they just chop your knees and they grab your leg and roll up on you and hold your leg,” said Jenkins, Georgia’s 6-foot-3, 358-pound, all-star noseguard. “That’s no fun. I think it’s cheating. . . . I can’t knock what they do. They do it legally. But it shouldn’t be legal.”
Or, as senior cornerback Sanders Commings so eloquently put it: “It sucks, to be honest.”
Cut-blocking and Southern’s triple-option dominated Tuesday’s discussions at Georgia’s weekly news conference. So give this to the Eagles (8-2, 6-2 SoCon): They’re clearly in the Bulldogs’ heads.
Richt was asked how having to feast on two weeks worth of option might adversely affect the Bulldogs, who will be facing nothing of the sort when they play in the SEC title game on Dec. 1.
“We’ve just got to worry about that when the time comes,” he said. “We can’t do anything other than defend who we’re going to play. So that’s what we’re doing. when that’s through, we’ll change gears again. . . . It will be vastly different, no doubt about that. But if we don’t focus on it now we’ll get embarrassed badly.”
Last year, Georgia lost defensive end DeAngelo Tyson to an ankle injury due to a cut block against Georgia Tech. Richt was asked if leg injuries were a bigger concern over the next two weeks.
“I think if you play aggressively and we do a good job of simulating it throughout this week and next week, we’ll be fine,” he said. “The thing of it is, down linemen get cut all year long. It’s not that different as much as it is for the guys on the perimeter. It is somewhat different; there’s probably more of it. But they do get cut all the time.”
Not like this, Jenkins contends.
“You get it, but you don’t get it often,” he said. “And this team has perfected the art of cutting. I mean, look, they chopped Alabama in half last year. . . . It’s one thing if you’re in high school. At the college level, that’s people’s livelihood. It’s a different way to look at it when you’re toying with people’s livelihoods. 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.
Here’s some other comments from Georgia coaches and players on Tuesday:
GEORGIA COACH MARK RICHT
Opening Statement . . .
“We’re playing Georgia Southern this week, and we normally play them about every four years. That’s been the routine. Every time they show up I kind of wish we didn’t set it up. They’re just a very good football team – one that causes all kinds of problems for us, especially defensively to try to defend their running game and their offensive team. They mostly run the ball. When they do throw it they average about 22 yards a completion, so they’re very effective when they do throw it. They’re a running football team. They average over 400 yards a game rushing. They actually had 529 yards rushing last week, so they’re just very good at what they do. Up front, both lines are not the biggest guys that we would normally run up against, but they are very athletic. They are perfect for what they do. They do a lot of zone blocking, but they’ll get to the second level and work on the cut blocks. They do a lot of speed sweeps, and they need a lot of guys who can run and hit, and they have a bunch of those. They do just a great job overall.
“Georgia Southern is led by Coach Jeff Monken, who has done a super job. They have the third-best winning percentage in the history of college football behind Michigan and Notre Dame. They’re used to winning, and I’ve been saying it all along: when you play teams that are used to winning, they are very difficult to beat. They show up with a great plan, they have tremendous habits, and they’re used to winning. They’re coming here to win the game. I know that’s their plan. I’ve actually looked at some of their comments from the last ballgame, and what they are thinking about coming into this game. You could tell they’ve got a mind to come and upset Georgia, so we know we have a great challenge ahead. It’s good to be back home between the hedges, and we’re looking forward to seeing our fan base at the Dawg Walk. We’ll be ready to play.”
On Georgia’s defensive front . . .
“I think it takes a total team effort for your defensive line to look good as far as your defensive effort. If everybody is playing their gap responsibilities like they’re supposed to – I’m not talking about just down linemen; I’m talking about linebackers, safeties fitting into the right spot – I think it helps the D-line. The D-line could be playing pretty well and if other guys are missing gap responsibilities, some big runs will pop. It’s just like offensive linemen. You kind of get blamed every time there is a sack, but a lot of times it’s a back not blocking somebody or a quarterback holding the ball too long or even a guy running the wrong route and the quarterback holds the ball because of it. I think it takes everybody to make everybody else look good. They are big and physical, and they do usually eat up a couple of blocks, especially the two big men inside. Garrison Smith has been very strong at the point, so I think it all works together. I think they’re doing pretty much what they’ve been doing all year long.”
On preparing for Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech prior to the SEC Championship…
“We just have to worry about that when the time comes. 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 as far as the mentality. Some of the schemes and responsibilities will be vastly different, there’s no doubt about that. If we don’t focus on this we’ll get embarrassed badly.”
On whether it’s an advantage to play Georgia Southern before Georgia Tech…
“A lot of time it’s a matter of making it fit everybody’s schedule. We had the open date there, and we have to make sure it fits Georgia Southern’s schedule as well, and it just ended up working out that that’s where it got placed. I think if you’re going to play that type of offense twice in a season it’s probably better to do it back-to-back rather than in game four and game nine. You kind of go back and forth on a certain mentality, and if we can maintain the same mentality for two weeks in a row instead of having to go back and forth, it’s probably not a bad thing, but we’ll see how the results end up.”
On the play of linebacker Michael Gilliard thus far…
“Michael has really grown all throughout his career. I think he’s gotten better every single year. I think he’s taking on the responsibility of being a good senior leader. His body year by year has gotten a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, and a little bit faster. He certainly has a great knowledge of what we’re trying to do, and he plays physical. He takes on blocks well, he doesn’t jump around things, and he understands the gap responsibilities and plays them well. I think he’s doing a very nice job for us.”
On Gilliard making adjustments throughout the season . . .
“I think everybody understands that whatever role you have, you have to play it well, and you have to play it with the right type of attitude. I just see a bunch of guys that are enjoying playing defense right now and enjoying the success that we’ve had lately. Michael’s certainly adjusted very well.”
On potential injuries that could occur to the defensive line as a result of facing triple-option offenses . . .
“I think if you play aggressively and we do a good job of simulating it throughout this week and next week, I think we’ll be fine. The thing of it is, down linemen get cut all year long. It’s not that different as much as it is for the guys on the perimeter. It is somewhat different, and I’m not going to say that it’s not, but there’s probably more of it, but they do get cut. There are times when people are trying to run a zone play and one guy is engaged on the nose guard and the other guy is trying to cut him off. Or even sometimes a guard is trying to get up to a linebacker, but the responsibility of the nose guard is not to let him get there, but the center behind that guard has the job to cut the guy off. The goal sometimes is to cut the nose guard with the center. A lot of times offenses aren’t even trying to have a guy high and a guy low, but it just happens. That happens to those guys more than you think, all throughout the year.”
On Tavarres King’s importance to the team . . .
“We love TK and what he’s been doing on the field and off the field. It’s just the type of person he is and the type of leader that he’s been. We think the world of TK, and I’m very confident that he’ll end up getting drafted and have a good pro career. He’s been very crucial, and we’ve counted on him. That flanker position, we count on that guy to make some big plays for us and he has. We expect him to be able to get deep, we expect him to be able to stretch the defense, and he’s just done a very good job of that. I’m proud of him.”
On Georgia Tech being able to see how Georgia defends against Georgia Southern this week…
“I’m not worried about Tech right now. We can talk about that next week. We know obviously that these teams are similar in their offensive styles, but all we can do is line up and defend whomever we’re playing. That’s all I’m worried about right now.”
On injured linebacker Chase Vasser…
“Chase’s situation is that he’s still not coming around with the shoulder injury. We’ll just see kind of see where it goes. He’s just not healthy right now.”
On the progress of freshmen kickers Collin Barber and Marshall Morgan…
“It’s a tough job to be a true freshman. I think when you’re being recruited, you’re so excited thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to get to play. I’m going to be playing in the SEC and I have a chance to start as a freshman.’ It’s really exciting to think about it when you’re being recruited and you’re signing and you’re preparing all summer long. Then you get in the games and you realize how crucial some of these situations are, and if you struggle, (you realize) how many people have an opinion on you. It’s different for those guys I’m sure from anything they’ve ever experienced. So they just need to know that you believe in them. They need to know that you think that they’ve got what it takes, and they do. Both of those guys, I think, are very talented. The more that they smooth out, the more that we’re going to see what they really can do on a consistent basis. They care what people think and what coach thinks, and they should care what their coaches think. They should care what people think, too, but they can’t get too concerned about that. They just have to focus on their job and block everything out. That’s not easy to do, but that’s what they’ve got to do. I think they’re getting better at that.”
On the importance of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall’s coming through at tailback this season . . .
“It’s huge. I’ve got faith in Ken Malcome. I thought Ken was really coming on, and he is. He’s a good player and he’s helping us win, no doubt. But Keith and Todd are very talented guys obviously, and they’re both very mature guys. They both kind of fed off each other in a very positive way, as roommates and as friends from high school. They had this vision, like we’ve talked about, of working together and playing together and maybe taking a little bit of pressure off of each other. Both of them are having supreme true freshman seasons, so it’s been huge. It’s been a big part of our ability to run the ball the way that we’ve run it, and I think we’re only going to get better at it. We don’t have a senior lineman in the bunch. We only have Tavarres King and Marlon Brown as the only two seniors on the offensive football team, so hopefully we’ll get better at it as time goes on.”
On not getting distracted with the current BCS race . . .
“I don’t worry about it. I don’t because I can’t control it. If you worry about stuff you can’t control, you’re really wasting your time and you’re going to make yourself crazy a little bit, so I can’t control it. I can only control what we do on a weekly basis. It’s just like when we lost the first game to South Carolina. Once we lost it, we couldn’t do anything other than control trying to win and hope something good happened, but we weren’t going crazy about it. Of course it happened pretty fast this particular year. Last year it took a long time, but it’s the motivation of still having your goals out in front of you. When it’s mathematically possible to win the East, there’s still hope, so you keep grinding and trying to reach your goal. If it came a time where we could not possibly win the East, then it takes a little esteem out of you and we would have had to find ways to motivate in new ways to reach our goals.”
TAILBACK KEITH MARSHALL
On increased confidence as the season goes on . . .
“I feel more confident now, for sure. I’m more confident in the playbook. I know my assignments, I can play more freely, and I’m not as worried about making sure I’m doing everything right.”
On his and Todd Gurley’s performance as freshmen . . .
“We feel great about [our season], but the bigger picture is the team. I think we complement each other well. It’s kind of cool (to be called ‘Gurshall’) to be compared to the greatest ever. It’s cool.”
On the differences between high school and college football . . .
“It’s definitely different. I’m not running as much or taking as much of a beating as I did in high school.”
QUARTERBACK AARON MURRAY
On moving into top-5 in SEC in career touchdown passes…
“I’m just blessed to be on this team, and to have Coach (Mike) Bobo allowing me to show off my talents. I’m lucky to have my receiving corps, my running backs, the linemen – it makes my job easy.”
On Gurley and Marshall . . .
“We want to be balanced, they give us balance. They can run the ball, eat up the clock, make big runs. It’s unbelievable. It feels like the Oregon offense sometimes, how they break through with those big 40, 50, 60, 70-yard touchdown runs.”
On Georgia Southern’s defense . . .
“They play a pretty straight-up defense. Of course every team has their array of blitzes and packages for third down and things like that, and we’ll have to be ready for it. This will be a big challenge for our offense. Against this type of team, you don’t get a lot of possessions, so we need to make sure when we do get the ball, we give our defense a break, first of all, have good drives and make sure we put points on the board.”
LINEBACKER CHRISTIAN ROBINSON
On facing two triple option offenses in consecutive weeks . . .
“I think it’s a good thing the way this works out. It gives us an opportunity to work on the same thing for two weeks in a row. A big thing for this week is that we’re going to have to knock them back and then stay on your feet and make plays. Obviously we’re going to go against cut blocks so getting to play against it two weeks in a row will allow us to get better at playing against that block.”
On Georgia Southern’s rushing offense . . .
“A lot of people don’t understand that the people that go to Georgia Southern ran this triple option in high school as well, and they’re some of the best guys at executing this style of offense. No body else, that we’re aware of, runs this type of offense except for them and Georgia Tech. They have great athletes; Johnathan Bryant has the speed to take it to the house at anytime. Jerick McKinnon, their quarterback, is good at what he does so we have to be prepared for the best athletes for this type of offense.”
On preparing for the triple option then preparing for a more traditional offense . . .
“It’s difficult, but at the same time it still helps you with the fundamentals of football. A lot of the time defending this style of offense comes down to the most basic fundamentals of football of just being in position, making tackles, and knocking them back. That’s how you defend this offense and that’s how you win games. It comes down to turnovers and big plays. You just have to be able to stone this offense and get the ball back in your offense’s hands.”
LINEBACKER AMARLO HERRERA
On Georgia Southern’s offense . . .
“They have the players that are the best fit for their style of offense. They have guys that allow them to convert on third down and on fourth down and keep the ball in the offenses hands and keep the clock running.”
On facing two triple option offenses in consecutive weeks . . .
“I think it’s beneficial for us to face two of the same offenses back to back, because it allows us to build off of this week and correct the mistakes that we may make in this game. It allows us to go back and look at the mistakes we may have made and then correct them which allows us to get a step ahead of our opponents because we have more experience of what we need to do better.”
On preparing for the triple option before SEC championship . . .
“You really have to take it one week at a time. We’re going to have to look at, and prepare for these two weeks differently then we’re going to go back and get back to what we usually do against a regular style of offense. It’s not very frustrating, it’s just football. We have to be prepared for anything at anytime and be ready to go against different styles, so we just have to play fast and make fast decisions.”
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