ATHENS -- The preparation began for Jordan Jenkins long before he even donned a Georgia football uniform. It would occupy his thoughts fairly often.
In high school, I always used to think about Marcus Lattimore: I gotta get ready for Marcus Lattimore, Jenkins said.
And now Jenkins, a freshman linebacker, along with his compatriots have to get ready for Lattimore and try to finally beat him.
There are many keys and important matchups this week as No. 5 Georgia visits No. 6 South Carolina. But for the Georgia defense, its task for Saturday seems quite focused.
Stop Lattimore, which it hasnt done the past two years, and Georgia has a good chance of reversing its fortunes against Gamecocks. Fail once again to stop Lattimore, and the Bulldogs likely lose a third straight time to their division rival.
But its not as easy as just saying Lattimore must be stopped.
Hes not one of the best running backs in the nation for no reason, Georgia senior defensive end Abry Jones said.
Lattimore had his coming-out game in 2010 against Georgia, rushing for 182 yards on an astounding 37 carries. Georgia did a bit better last year, holding Lattimore to 176 yards on 27 carries.
We played him well last year up until the fourth quarter, and then he had a couple big runs, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. Weve gotta understand that we need to play four quarters on him, then do the same things youve gotta do against a great back. Because Ive got a lot of respect for him. He plays that position the way you should play it.
Lattimore is coming off knee surgery after tearing his ACL later in the 2011 season. He was able to return for the start of this season, and he has rushed for 446 yards and eight touchdowns. He has carried it 20 times in all three SEC games, ranging from a low of 85 yards (vs. Missouri) to a high of 120 (this past weekend at Kentucky).
Head coach Steve Spurrier was asked where he thinks Lattimore is health-wise.
I hope hes where he was when he ran against Georgia two years ago, Spurrier said with a laugh.
There are many reasons Lattimore is successful, such as his blend of size, speed and innate running ability. But the reason that stands out, at least to the Bulldogs, is how hard he is to tackle.
According to Jenkins, earlier this week head coach Mark Richt addressed the defense, laying out the difficult task ahead.
I remember Coach Richt saying, Defense, you guys gotta be ready to tackle, because Marcus Lattimore is a hellacious running back, its gonna take one or two of you to bring him down. Im not knocking any of you guys down, hes just a good running back. Im not saying you cant. Hes just that good, Jenkins said.
One way that Georgia could mitigate Lattimores impact is by getting some early stops, just as the Bulldogs did for much of last years game. Then the Bulldogs will have to hope that Georgias high-octane offense, which has put up at least 40 points each game this season, puts South Carolina in a position where it has to abandon the run.
They love getting (Lattimore) the ball. Hes their best player on offense, cornerback Sanders Commings said. Its very important that we take him out of the ball early. If we can do that, then well have some success.
I think the closer the game, the more youre going to see Lattimore, Richt said.
But how do you stop Lattimore at the outset?
One hope for Georgia is that it has another tool against Lattimore this year in Todd Gurley. The freshman tailback is also hard to tackle, so the Bulldogs have gotten plenty of work against a similar runner at practice.
One thing that people are noticing about Todd is he just keeps his feet moving and he lowers his head and will butt you down, Georgia senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. Thats hard, a guy does that 37 times in a game, and its hard to stop. He falls forward. And instead of just getting hit and falling down, he gets two extra yards by just falling forward. Over a whole game, thats a lot of yards. And so weve gotta gang-tackle, knock him back, gap-control.
Thats what were hearing, being preached to. With him, hes gonna do it all game. Weve gotta play a four-quarter game, and beyond if we have to.
Jenkins and junior inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (who was suspended for the 2010 game and injured last year) are the only regulars who havent faced Lattimore yet. The Bulldogs defenders who have know what they need to do, although doing it, they realize, is a whole other matter.
Someone with his talent isnt someone you can hold all day, Jones said. We kind of want to restrict him, in times that we need to, and hopefully we can do that and come away with a win.