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Post Say what?

Tuesday November 11, 2008

The Georgia defense has been the focal point of conversation this week, and with good reason. Some go right to coaching. Some note a few key injuries. Others question leadership. Then there’s the lack of big plays from the defensive ends and defensive backs. I think pwd does a good job of laying out the situation here. Lots of different takes on things, but the common tie is that no one is happy with the play of the defense.

That dissatisfaction includes, as you’d hope, the players themselves. Corvey Irvin, Dannell Ellerbe, and Rennie Curran challenged the defense on Monday in a player-only meeting. What came out of the meeting was in part encouraging but also a little disturbing.

First, credit the players for taking ownership of the problem and showing some leadership. It’s not too late to end the season on a strong defensive note. In 2006, the defense was left for dead after allowing a last-minute Kentucky scoring drive. The defense bounced back, started creating turnovers and big plays, and was a big part of Georgia’s memorable wins against Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech.

The disturbing part is that here we are again hoping, for the third straight year, for a November turnaround from the defense. Players come and go, but this is a song we’ve heard before. You’d hope and expect, given the national expectations of the program entering the year, not to hear something like this from Rennie Curran ten games into the season:

“We’ve got to do everything in practice the same way we would in a game. We’ve got to quit joking in practice when we miss an assignment. It’s not funny any more and we’ve got to stop thinking that it is. We just can’t go out there in the game and turn on a switch and be an amazing defense.”

Now I trust no one has the impression that Georgia practices are Keystone Cops routines with a laugh track. Coach Garner more than anyone on the staff gets after his defensive linemen. What we’re talking about is a more subtle erosion of focus relative to the level of competition. These are practice habits forged in the offseason, and I doubt what Curran is talking about is something that has just now come up.

Mark Richt on Sunday was a little defensive and even became somewhat pedantic about the performance of his defense. He deflected questions about scheme by remarking (correctly) that "people don’t get it" and most fans don’t have a clue what the defensive call is on a given play. That’s very true; most people criticisng the Georgia defense think that "cover everybody" would be a better coverage call than "cover one". It might help to know that a fire zone has nothing to do with parking, but even dumb fans could see that something wasn’t quite right with the defense at Kentucky. Darryl Gamble indicated it had something to do with preparation.

“We really didn’t prep for (quarterback Randall Cobb) to run the ball as much as he did,” linebacker Darryl Gamble said. “We really didn’t think that was a main focus and wasn’t really prepared for it.”

The execution and talent angles hold a lot less water after a statement like that. It’s true that the Kentucky option was a new look, but no one should have been surprised by the Kentucky offense running the ball and Cobb doing a lot of that running. In his first start of the year at Mississippi State, he ran the ball 12 times. When he replaced the starter at Florida, he rushed 9 times for a team-high 52 yards. He averaged 4.3 yards per pass attempt in each of those games. What exactly did the Georgia coaches expect to see?

Just in case anyone is unsure: Auburn and Georgia Tech like to run the ball. A lot. Even from the quarterback position. It would be nice if that was a main focus of practice over the next few weeks so that the defense might be prepared for it.

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