November 25, 2011

No looking ahead

Almost immediately after 13th-ranked Georgia beat Kentucky last week to sew up the SEC East crown, one of the first questions posed to the Bulldogs in the post-game locker room was whether or not there'd be anyway the team would look past Georgia Tech and ahead to next week's SEC Championship Game.

"Not at all, no chance," junior linebacker Christian Robinson said. "I know there's no way I want the Georgia Tech fans who go to my church have anything to say to me. We're focused; nobody needs to worry about that."

Head coach Mark Richt hasn't taken any chances.

With no off week before this year's contest in Atlanta (noon, ESPN), Richt has had his Bulldogs (9-2) practice in full pads every day this week, if anything just to give the defense as many opportunities as possible to get a handle on the Yellow Jackets' triple-option attack which is averaging 322.6 yards per game.

"We have to play assignment football. If one person misses an assignment, then Georgia Tech will have the chance to make big plays," safety Bacarri Rambo said. "Everyone needs to do their job, stay focused, run to the ball and play full speed."

If looking for the main reason Georgia enters the game on a nine-game streak, look no further than the play of Todd Grantham's defense.

The Bulldogs rank second in both rushing defense (81.3) and total defense (263.5), although Georgia obviously hasn't faced the style of offense used by the Yellow Jackets (8-3), which last year gashed the Bulldogs for 411 yards on the ground.

Richt is counting on a year's experience in Grantham's 3-4 system making a difference in the results this time around.

"In college you defend so many offenses compared to what you defend in the NFL. In the NFL everybody is a lot alike. There are a few differences here and there, but they are a lot more common than not, and in college it's just vast the different types of offenses you have to defend and gain experience with your players and your system against it," Richt said. "I think a lot of guys got bigger, stronger, faster. I think a lot of guys grew up. We got a lot of people in the right spots. Even the coaches besides Coach Grantham understand what we are doing, because Todd was teaching everybody."

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson isn't taking anything for granted.

"They have every chance of stopping our offense if we don't go out there and execute," he said. "But I'm looking forward to the challenge. We're going to try and show up and see what happens."

How Georgia's defense stacks up against the Yellow Jacket triple-option is just one of the big storylines as far as Bulldog fans are concerned.

So is who will be getting most of the totes in the Bulldog backfield.

Although Richt said Isaiah Crowell will play after offensive guard Chris Burnette rolled up on the freshman's ankle during his second carry against Kentucky, there still remains a question as to how effective he will be.

Carlton Thomas' situation also appears to be a game-time decision.

Thomas was suspended for the third time this year last week for a violation of team rules, and Richt has eschewed a public declaration stating whether or not the junior would play on Saturday.

If Crowell and Thomas can't play, redshirt sophomore Brandon Harton and redshirt freshman Ken Malcome will once again share the bulk of the carries.

Whoever plays, Richt said the Bulldogs must be able to run the football.

"We always like to run the football, but you have to have backs who can do it and some backs who are willing to hang on to the football in the process. The thing about this game is every possession really is pretty crucial. Georgia Tech's offense, because they run the ball so much and reduce yardage throughout and get to those third-and-shorts, that's why they are one of the best third down percentage teams in America," Richt said. "The goal is to run the ball well. If you are able to run the ball well, I don't have a problem with taking as many ticks off the clock as possible in any game. If you've seen us finish ballgames, some of the games have maybe been a little bit boring at the end to some people, because we are trying to get first downs without throwing the ball, because we know we can reduce the chance of a team that might be behind us to get back into the ballgame. The longer we have it, the better chance our defense has to rest."

Georgia Tech's defense has struggled of late.

After holding Clemson's high-powered offense to 17 points three weeks ago, the Yellow Jackets surrendered 37 points in a loss to Virginia Tech (a 37-26 loss) and 31 (a 38-31 win) to Duke, Johnson is concerned how effective his squad will be against the Bulldogs, who have scored at least 30 points against Georgia Tech in Johnson's three years as head coach.

"The last two games haven't been great. We've had spurts where we've played pretty good defense but we haven't been consistent, and you can say that about every aspect of the team, really," Johnson said. "We haven't been able to get any pressure on the passer, and the quarterbacks have completed a high percentage. We've had a hard time getting off the field on third down, but other than that it's all just peachy keen."