Most battles in the Southeast Conference are won and lost in the trenches, and that will likely be the case when third-ranked Georgia takes on second-ranked Alabama in the Georgia Dome on Saturday at 4:10 p.m.
Just six weeks ago - this game, at least on the line of scrimmage -would be seen as a gross mismatch as Alabama has one of the top offensive lines in the conference, and Georgia had struggled to stop the likes of Tennessee, South Carolina, and Kentucky on the ground in three straight weeks.
Fast forward to the Monday before the Bulldogs took on Florida where Shawn Williams called his defense "soft," and the rest has been history as UGA held Florida, Ole Miss, and Auburn to less than half of their per game averages in rushing and kept the triple option offenses of Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech in check.
Senior defensive lineman John Jenkins has definitely noticed a difference.
"I feel like we are playing solid. I'm not going to take anything less from this defense. I feel like we have been solid and we have been able to rise to the occasion," said Jenkins. "Granted a lot of people go off the stats and how we played at the beginning of the season, but those games we played early in the season that we didn't do so hot in, we won. We are where we are because of winning those games. It is just one of those situations where we have to go out there and keep doing what we are doing."
Although they have improved in recent weeks, Georgia will face one of its biggest challenges in Alabama's physical but balanced offense on Saturday.
Junior defensive lineman Garrison Smith, who's play has been a big key to the Bulldogs recent success on defense, says that there are no holes up front on the Crimson Tide front five.
"I just see an all-around great front. They have a great offensive line. They have great backs," said Smith. "It's going to be a challenge trying to face them. They have a pro team really. They have an NFL ready team. It is going to be a challenge."
Jenkins couldn't agree more.
"Their whole offensive line is pretty much solid across the board. They work together and know how to pass off blocks. They know to get things done and you can tell they are sound fundamentally," said Jenkins. ""It is just one of those games where you have to go out there and play every snap the best way you can. There really is no specific way to attack their offense. You just aren't going to be able find that. If you do find that, then you will know it and you have to take advantage of it."
While neither defensive lineman sees a specific area to attack the Alabama offensive line, they are also finding a hard time identifying which offensive lineman stands out as the best of the group.
"No. No one really stands out," said Smith. "I look at all of them like great players and NFL players. I just can't single one person out. They are all great."
As the right defensive end in Georgia's 3-4 scheme, Smith will primarily square off against Alabama's left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and left guard Chance Warmack.
Jenkins, however, plays both nose tackle and defensive end, and could face any of the Tide's linemen on any play.
According to Jenkins, that is just a challenge that comes with his versatility.
"I'm in a position where I'm very versatile in this defense. I get to go up against the center, the guard, and the tackle," said Jenkins. "They have a great offensive line obviously. We have a great defensive line, too, so I think it is going to be one of those games where it is just whoever wants it more."
Playing defensive end is something that Jenkins has doing a great deal since senior Abry Jones was lost for the season due to injury, and has expressed in the past how he is more comfortable playing nose tackle.
After playing the position for several games, the former JUCO standout isn't ready to say he has settled in, but believes he knows how to get the job done.
"I have no choice to be (comfortable)," he said. "I'm just one of those guys where, and I told coach this, just put me anywhere and if I don't get it done then, I'll find a way to get it done."
With a few more days to prepare, Smith and the rest of the Georgia defense know what they are gearing up for and don't expect the Tide to do anything but what they do well.
"They are a power and a zone team. They do everything well. They just are just going to come in and execute their game plan," said Smith. "They aren't going to change anything up or bring any surprises. It is going to be a challenge to play against a team that is so disciplined and technically sound, really."
The Bulldog defense isn't betting on any surprises for this game, but Jenkins says that their preparation has to be a mix of knowing how big this game truly is and realizing that for 60 minutes on Saturday, it is just another game.
"You have to realize what is at stake. There is a lot at stake," said Jenkins. "At the end of the day, it is a regular game, but everything else is going to come afterward. Whoever wins, then all that extra stuff and the accolades come afterward. But going into the game, you have to look at it like a regular game. If you go into the game thinking it is anything above and beyond that, you get a little tight, then you get nervous. You can't do that."
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