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November 14, 2012

Defense on the alert

Much has already been made about Georgia defenders having to deal with the cut blocks they'll see Saturday against Georgia Southern (1:30, WSB) and next week against Georgia Tech.

But lost in all that discussion is that the FCS Eagles (8-2) are very good at what they do regarding the triple-option, and that's what has grabbed the attention of Bulldog defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

"This program has won. It's got a tradition of winning. I think anytime you face a team, it doesn't matter what level, if you're used to winning, I think there's a little different trend or expectation than there is if you're facing a lower-level Division I team that doesn't win all the time," Grantham said. "They're used to winning, they recruit players for their system and they're good at it. They've got some skill guys who can make some plays with the ball in their hand, last year when they went to Alabama they had over 300 yards, they've scored 21 points and they've got eight starters back. We've got to be ready to play."

On its level, nobody does it better.

Georgia Southern features the best rushing attack in the FCS (401.2 yards per game), having run for 4,012 yards, including eight 300-yard games in the Eagles' 10 games thus far.

"You've got mis-direction runs, you've got various formations where they try to get the angles on you for the blocking and then they try to turn it into a perimeter game, get your guys on the perimeter down with the blocks and their guys can run," Grantham said. "You've got to be able to play the cut-blocks, play all kind of blocks. You've got to make sure your assignments are sound because they are going to have a triple threat. The fullback can have it, the quarterback can have it and he can always pitch. They do it, they're good at it, so you've got to be ready for it."

If the Eagles didn't have Georgia's respect before, all it took was coaches popping in the tape of last year's game between Georgia Southern and Alabama to grab the players' attention.

Alabama won the game 45-21, but the Eagles rushed for 302 yards and had the most total yards (356) than anyone had compiled against the eventual national champions all year.

The Eagles are led by quarterback Jerick McKinnon, who last week passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark after running for a career-best 198 yards in a 69-26 win over Howard.

Georgia Southern enters the game having not been shut out since a 45-0 loss to Montana in the 1995 FCS playoffs, a streak that stands at 215 games.

"We know they're not one of those small schools just coming in here to take the money," linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "They're going to come here to fight."The Bulldogs are apparently taking nothing for granted, despite the fact they've seen the offense before against Georgia Tech.

For one of the rare times, head coach Mark Richt is having his Bulldogs practice in full pads all four days of practice this week to make sure everyone is properly prepared.

Linebacker Christian Robinson believes that's probably a good idea.

"You have to practice getting cut. You have to prepare because each guy has a job to do," Robinson said. "You can't have one guy trying to do somebody else's job because that's when big plays happen. They've got the athletes to get to the edge and that makes them dangerous."

The Eagles have thrown the ball 65 times all year, a part of the offense the Georgia defense will obviously have to worry about a lot more come time for the SEC Championship, likely against the Crimson Tide.

While some have wondered if playing two back-to-back option teams might prove a disadvantage, Grantham and Jones don't think that's necessarily the case.

"It's probably not the best scenario, but it's the hand we're dealt, we're going to play it. We'll be fine. We need this game to reach the goals we want to reach so it's an important game. It just so happens that we've got to face this style of offense for two weeks in a row, so we're going to do it, we'll be prepared, we'll do it one game at a time and as we unfold it we'll be ready for the next opponent," Grantham said. "Right now it's Georgia Southern. If you don't play it that way you can get in trouble because they have enough guys and athletes that they can hurt you."

Jones believes having to focus on a different style of offense will actually make the defense stronger.

"I think it's going to make us that much better," he said. "You've got to shift your focus, and that means you've got to be disciplined and that's what is going to make us better in regards to executing our calls. I really think it's going to bring us together."

Otherwise, nothing else will change for the Bulldog defense, which Grantham said will still play with the same mindset it has all year.

"Playing defense is about playing blocks, tackling, getting to the ball carrier and knocking the ball out," Grantham said. "The way we're doing to do it this week is unlike any game we've played and there's no carry-over after this game. But the mindset that which we'll play with, the attitude and those kinds of things are still going to be there."



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