Georgia D knows the task that lies ahead
NEW ORLEANS » A lot has been said and written about the balanced Georgia offensive attack at this week's practice sessions for Tuesday's Allstate Sugar Bowl.
The focus has been on the Bulldogs offense, led by talented redshirt freshman running back Knowshon Moreno, and how many yards Georgia may compile against what many believe is a suspect Hawaii defense.
Hawaii's potent passing attack has received rave reviews as well, as Colt Brennan and Co. line up in the top scoring offense in the country, designed by run-and-shoot genius June Jones.
But lost in these lively discussions as to which offense will score more is a Georgia defense that's looking for a little respect come New Year's Day in the Superdome in New Orleans.
True, the Georgia defense has already faced a spread attack and won. In a 44-34 victory over Troy, the Bulldogs schemed an offense similar to Hawaii's in design, if not execution. And defensive coordinator Willie Martinez is hopeful this acquaintance with the spread, coupled with a month of preparation, will be enough to slow down the Brennan train riding toward a perfect season.
He knows matching wits with Jones is a daunting task. But in his mind, players win football games, not coaches. And he has enough on the defensive side of the football to more than offset what Hawaii wants to do. At least he hopes so.
"To be successful in any offense, you need to have players, and Hawaii has great players at every position," Martinez said. "They have a great quarterback in Colt Brennan, some smooth receivers and what we think has not been talked about enough is their talented offensive line. They understand their scheme very well, which makes it tough to get to the quarterback. They get rid of the ball quickly, presenting us with a major challenge."
It's hard to get pressure on Brennan by rushing the defensive front alone. Blitz packages will be needed, meaning the secondary has to stay close first and foremost, and make sure tackles in the secondary to avoid giving up the big play. Georgia led the SEC in sacks during the regular season with 34, including a team-leading 7.5 by senior end Marcus Howard.
He also had a team-high 37 quarterback hurries, followed closely by sophomore tackle Geno Atkins with 35. Atkins was second on the team in sacks with 6.5, giving Georgia the kind of push inside that can pose problems for the Warriors.
"We know Hawaii is going to come out and throw the ball nearly 50 times," Howard said. "I mean, they pass 90 percent of the time. This is the type of game that the defensive line dreams of, you know, getting a great pass rush and trying to disrupt the quarterback."
There is also a lot of pressure on the secondary to make sure if the pass is completed, the yards after the catch are held to a minimum. Senior strong safety Kelin Johnson believes his secondary teammates are ready for the task.
He led the team with four interceptions and also had four quarterback hurries out of different blitz looks. Sophomore cornerback Asher Allen will also be asked to make plays in the secondary. For the season he had one pick and four passes broken up.
"Basically Hawaii has been efficient as they have been for the past three years," Asher said. "This is nothing really new. The run-and-shoot offense, when run correctly, is really dangerous. We just have to try our best to make sure that when they do catch the ball, they pick up a minimal gain. We need to get deflections and stuff like that to disrupt their offensive flow."
Martinez couldn't agree more and has said as much to anyone who would listen over the last four weeks.
"We have been telling our kids that it is important when they make a 10-yard gain that it stays a 10-yard gain," Martinez said. "We have to minimize the yards that are made after the catch, because they will get their yards.
"It is a rhythm offense and we need to do what we can to disrupt their flow. We have to do a good job on third down and put them in a lot of long-yardage situations. They are so efficient on first and second down that they do not allow themselves to be put into third-and-long situations. We have played what we think is a very good schedule and have been challenged with the spread offense. We need to set the tempo and give our offense some good field position."