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Post Linebacker shakeup and defending Tennessee

Thursday October 5, 2006

The brilliant spotlight on the quarterback situation is keeping another position shakeup somewhat in the dark. What’s interesting is how open and direct the criticism of a particular player is and how well that player has taken it.

Ole Miss was successful in gashing the Dawgs straight up the middle with the running game. Danny Verdun-Wheeler was starting at middle linebacker in place of the injured Jarvis Jackson, and it just wasn’t his night. Several times he was the first guy in the gap and even had a chance to stop the back in the backfield, but he couldn’t finish the tackle or gave up several yards before he could bring the runner down. Coach Richt saw what we did.

"I think Danny Verdun understood what to do pretty much, but when it came to the moment of truth, the human equation, linebacker versus running back, we didn’t knock him back, he knocked us back. It wasn’t just Danny, but Danny was at the point maybe more than some of the other guys were. We’ve got to be more physical tacklers."

He was right. Danny often got himself in the right place to make a play. He’s a good experienced linebacker, and the coaches will tell you that he is the most versatile of any of the LBs. But he’s not the physical presence that we’re used to in the middle. That’s what Richt is hoping for as Jackson returns this weekend. "Jarvis has been the guy I think can really run through ballcarriers," he said. "He tends to really be the big-hit guy for us. I’m thankful he’ll get the opportunity to get back in."

To his credit, Danny responds as you’d hope a veteran would. Ching quotes him, "I was in position, I just missed the tackle. I’ve just got to work hard this week and prepare a whole lot better this week." You hope that the young receivers, who don’t have the benefit of that experience, can take the same approach with all the heat they’re getting this week.

Part of the reason why Verdun-Wheeler is coming off the bench instead of moving back to an OLB position is the play of Brandon Miller. Miller had one of his best games at Ole Miss and was a big factor as the Dawgs eventually limited the success of the Rebel running game. Tony Taylor has been great most of the year. Other than getting frozen in place on a long run by the Colorado QB, Taylor has been a tackle machine.

The linebackers will be a big part of the story on Saturday. Tennessee has had mixed success running the ball. They struggled against Florida, but they’ve rebounded nicely in their past two games. There have been a series of injuries to the backs and the line. Georgia must have the advantage in the running game as they did last year. If Tennessee can run the ball well on the Dawgs, that means less pressure on Ainge, and Ainge with time to throw can be particularly effective. Georgia’s linebackers will also have to be sure tacklers as the Vols have shown a strong ability to turn short-yardage plays into big ones.

The Vols present a different kind of challenge for Georgia. It’s really the first quality passing game Georgia has seen. There have been good players like the Western Kentucky quarterback or Rice at South Carolina, but Georgia’s defense hasn’t seen anything like the combination of Ainge, Swain, and Meachem. That’s why controlling the running game is so high of a priority – defense will be somewhat easier if the Vol offense can be made more one-dimensional. If Coker and/or Foster can have some of the success that Colorado and Ole Miss had running the ball in the first half, it could be a bad day for the Georgia defense. With Colorado and Ole Miss, we didn’t especially have to worry about a potent passing attack.

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