Resurgent Georgia defense has plenty of heroes

semerson@macon.comOctober 28, 2012 

ATHENS -- Georgia head coach Mark Richt was walking down a hallway toward his postgame news conference Saturday night, when a staffer handed him the stat sheet. Richt went right to Jarvis Jones’ stat line and started reading it off for everyone to hear.

Three sacks. Two fumble recoveries. Two forced fumbles. Four-and-a-half tackles for loss. And 12 solo tackles.

Then Richt just yelled out, “Wooo!”

But a day later, after watching film, Richt granted that it wasn’t just Jones, his star linebacker, who shined. While Jones was the most visible, the reason Georgia’s defense finally had the game it was capable of was because of big plays coming from everywhere.

“All I know is when I watched the film, just a lot of guys playing physical, a lot of guys playing hard. Playing really hard,” Richt said Sunday. “You could see the whole group hustling, gang tackling. There was some great individual plays. They were kind of feeding off each other. It was exciting to watch as it happened. It was actually fun to watch the film.”

Safety Bacarri Rambo had a critical interception at the end of the first half, as well as a second-half sack on a well-executed blitz. Cornerback Damian Swann also had a sack and an interception.

Cornelius Washington recovered a fumble and received praise from Richt on Sunday for his play at defensive end. Sanders Commings had the fumble recovery that sealed the game. Jordan Jenkins had a number of pressures from the outside linebacker spot.

And one of the most memorable plays came early, when senior safety Shawn Williams -- whose critical comments early in the week helped spark the defense -- made a tackle on fourth down to end a Florida drive in Georgia territory.

The performance of the defense was critical in Georgia’s 17-9 win, and that victory was felt in several ways Sunday:

• The Bulldogs made a move in the rankings and are now No. 6 in the BCS standings.

• CBS announced that it has picked up Saturday’s Georgia-Mississippi game, which will kick off at 3:30 p.m. CBS had elected to take a six-day hold on its selection for Saturday and picked the game between the new SEC East leader and the resurgent Rebels, who are one game away from bowl eligibility.

None of this would have been likely if Georgia’s defense had continued to struggle, but it turned things around against Florida. So what was the reason?

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham did his best to push back on the idea that Williams’ comments were the key. In fact Grantham said they weren’t a big deal.

“They’re not,” Grantham insisted. “They were big because (the media) heard them. Trust me, there’s been other things said in meetings that were on the line of those things, by players, coaches and everybody. You guys just heard it.”

But Grantham seemed alone in that view.

“What Shawn said, that definitely would be a spark. It gave me a spark,” said linebacker Mike Gilliard, who had six tackles.

But Grantham also took a season-long view, arguing that the performance against Florida was just the culmination of the defensive “evolution.” Grantham pointed to suspensions at the start of the season and depth issues because of offseason attrition.

“We had some guys suspended early,” Grantham said. “So with our scholarship number the way it is on defense, we’ve had some guys here that had to play that were either young or had to play another position or moved from offense to defense. So we had to do that. So we did that for a little bit early to win games.

“Then we transitioned over and faced a good Tennessee team, and we moved some guys to some new spots because we get a few guys available. But then their fits aren’t right because they haven’t had enough reps. And then I think you get a bit of a confidence thing, because the success you’ve been expecting to have wasn’t there. Basically Monday was enough’s enough, and we’ve got to play. But I think the continuity that they’ve had over the last few weeks has allowed them to get to where they are. So I think it’s been more of an evolving thing.”

All that said, it was still just one game. Georgia next has to stop Ole Miss, which is one of the SEC’s most surprising teams. The Rebels were expected to struggle but instead are 5-3, have scored 30-plus points in five games and rank fifth in the SEC in total offense.

“It’s just like Jarvis Jones said after our game against Florida. He said this victory doesn’t really mean anything unless we keep winning,” Richt said.

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