Georgia’s outspoken defense has its confidence back

semerson@macon.comNovember 27, 2012 

ATHENS -- There is a routine: Player says something outlandish to the media. Player gets privately scolded by his coach. Rest of the team gets warned by coach to keep quiet.

But the routine has been dispensed with this week at Georgia, where the players have chirped away, and the head coach, cognizant of the importance of emotion to his defense, has stepped aside.

It started when safety Bacarri Rambo spouted off Saturday, saying Georgia had the best defensive talent in the country. That seemed too brash, not what a player wanted to say before playing Alabama for the right to play in the BCS championship.

Then came Monday, and this from cornerback Sanders Commings: “I think we’re the best defense in the country. I thought we were last year.”

And with still another day for a coach or media relations person to issue a cease-and-desist, linebacker Amarlo Herrera piled on: “I feel the same. I back those guys up. I haven’t seen anyone play better than us the second half of the season. I feel nobody has.”

And what happened in the second half of the season? Shawn Williams had his famous “playing soft” rant, which many players and even head coach Mark Richt credit with sparking the resurgence of the defense.

That’s why Richt is letting his defensive players yap away this week.

“If they get their blood high, I think they play better,” Richt said Tuesday.

Receiver Rhett McGowan put it another way, saying, “You don’t want to get them mad.”

Alabama, it should be pointed out, hasn’t provided any bulletin-board material and isn’t likely to with head coach Nick Saban’s iron muzzle. But Florida didn’t chirp at the Bulldogs before their game in late October. Williams’ rant was the self-catalyst and led Richt to conclude that his defense fed off that extra motivation.

So a little pregame chirping is just fine with Richt, as long as it doesn’t cross a line. Georgia players are just talking up their defense -- the same way they did last year in the lead-up to the SEC championship. Yes, the Bulldogs lost that game 42-10. But the defense actually played great in the first half, not yielding any points, so all the pregame bravado didn’t seem to backfire.

The players believe the confidence is good.

“It’s definitely good to play with confidence,” Commings said. “I think confidence is just another word for swagger. We step on the field, our swag is turned all the way up. We feel like we can shut anybody down, shut anybody out.”

Commings was asked if the first half of that SEC championship game last year was the best the defense has played.

“Yeah, I’d say so,” he said. “And the second half was probably the worst.”

Those second-half struggles may have carried into the start of this season. Georgia’s experienced defense was struggling until the Florida game, ranked 47th nationally in yards allowed, after finishing fifth in that category last year.

“We weren’t doing what we were supposed to do,” sophomore cornerback Damian Swann said. “So people probably weren’t feeling as confident as we should’ve been. But now we got that swagger back.”

Playing well got the swagger back. But Commings is also among those who say Williams’ comments -- public and private -- was the ignition. Williams, who has shied from the media since his rant, has never come to Commings and had any regrets.

“Our motto this year is our team, our time, no regrets. And he doesn’t regret that at all. Look at how we’ve played since he said that,” Commings said.

That appears to be Richt’s thinking.

“You know what, they’re all young and excited, and they say what they wanna say sometimes,” Richt said. “I don’t think it’s gonna matter much what everybody says before the game. I think it’s gonna matter much what happens when we kick it off. So I’m not too worried about it.”

But there is a limit.

Herrera was asked Tuesday about Alabama’s offensive line, and whether he agreed with the idea it was the best in the country.

“I can see why. But like everybody else, everybody has flaws,” Herrera said. “We just gotta exploit those flaws.”

Herrera was asked what those flaws were.

He smiled and shook his head.

“I ain’t gonna talk about it out there,” he said.

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