Georgia uses a traditional 4-3 defense. The 'Dawgs, although they struggled at points late last season, have consistently had one of the best defenses in the country over the past few years, ranking no lower than 22nd in the country in total defense since 2002. Georgia continued to play strong defense last week in their loss to Oklahoma State, giving up only 307 total, 135 passing, and 172 rushing yards to OSU's vaunted offense. The 'Dawgs did give up a relatively high 24 points, but OSU often had a short field due to Georgia's offensive miscues.
Georgia's strengths on defense are numerous. First of all, although they gave up a relatively high amount of rushing yards against OSU, the 'Dawgs should be strong against the run this year with Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens, and Kade Weston forming a talented interior-line rotation. Also helping out on the run will be star inside linebacker Rennie Curran, who led the SEC in tackles a year ago. The 'Dawgs secondary is led by Prince Miller and Reshad Jones and did a good job slowing down a usually prolific OSU passing attack last week.
Georgia's defensive weaknesses coming into the season were their pass rush and overall passing defense. Georgia failed to register many sacks last year, a fact attested to by the fact that our paltry line for the most part kept them out of our backfield last year. Georgia had no sacks and few hurries against Oklahoma State, although it should be said that OSU was known for being rarely sacked last year. Georgia did well against the pass against Oklahoma State, suggesting that their talent and depth in the linebacking corps and secondary may be coming together in passing defense.
Read the rest of the preview after the jump.This weekend, I expect Georgia to try to play to our perceived weaknesses by assuming that their line can manhandle ours and stuff our rushing game, usually using their linebacking corp to play the pass, and occasionally using blitzs to attempt to throw Stephen Garcia off. Georgia's inability to get quarterback pressure with a four-man rush will require these blitzes. These strategies should be effective for the most part. Our rushing game showed some potential last week against a decent N. C. State rushing defense, but we still averaged less than 3 ypc. Georgia has no reason to believe that their more talented line can't hold us to the same average until we prove otherwise. With Spurrier claiming he'll be less conservative this week, I do expect you'll see us diversify the running game with more outside pitches, occasional option plays, and perhaps wildcat formations with Stephon Gilmore taking the snap. Hopefully this, along with better line play and fewer freshman mistakes by Jarvis Giles, will help us move the ball on the ground somewhat effectively. However, you have to think that Georgia will be able to limit our rushing yards to a large degree.
As far as the passing game goes, I think that with their rushing defense Georgia will mostly play to dare Garcia to throw the ball downfield, assuming that he won't make the throws he needs to and may make occasional mistakes that lead to turnovers. Again, Spurrier claims he's going to take more chances this week, so we can expect to see us take Georgia's gambit here. Whether we succeed depends on a few keys. First of all, Garcia obviously needs to continue to avoid throwing into traffic. He did a good job of that last week, and I'd much prefer to see him continue to take a two- or three-yard gain on the ground instead of forcing the ball, as I think our defense can carry us in this game as long as we don't commit turnovers. Second of all, Garcia has to make the throws when he has open receivers. He underthrew Tori Gurley on the touchdown that got called back and underthrew a wide-open Weslye Saunders earlier in the game. He has to make those throws when we get the chances, because we won't get many. Finally, Garcia has to manage the blitz better. Spurrier criticizes him for not audibling well against N. C. State, and we've seen Garcia have trouble with this before. If he can find out a way to handle the blitz, we could see things open up in different ways. An well-timed handoff or pitch to the speedy Giles seems like the ideal blitz-breaker to me.
Overall, I expect we'll have some trouble moving the ball against Georgia. However, if we can limit turnovers and convert on the scoring opportunities we get, I do think we can score some points against the 'Dawgs. This week it probably really will be about Garcia; we're going to have trouble running, so Garcia playing smart and making plays when he gets the chance is what will have to make the difference for us.