ATHENS — Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings said that the No. 5 Bulldogs have done a good job of bringing respectability back to their defense.
The Bulldogs allowed just 19 total points in their last three games and clinched the SEC East title last week at Auburn, but their defense is hardly looking forward to facing the next two opponents.
Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech both use a spread option offense that relies on cut blocks — a legal, below-the-waist technique that tries to get defenders on the ground quickly so ball-carriers can exploit open space.
Commings doesn’t like having to prepare for it.
“We’ve got to do it, though,” he said Tuesday. “It’s another step to get to the national championship.”
When Georgia (9-1) hosts Georgia Southern (8-2) on Saturday, the Bulldogs will face an offense that leads the FCS in rushing and ranks 10th in scoring.
Georgia Tech, which visits Sanford Stadium next week, ranks fourth in FBS rushing and 19th in scoring.
Last week against Howard, Georgia Southern scored 69 points. Last week at North Carolina, Georgia Tech scored 68.
The similarities between the two schools are easy to see. Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken worked on Paul Johnson’s staff at Tech, Navy and Georgia Southern.
When Monken left Tech to take the job at Southern, he brought Johnson’s offense with him.
“They are perfect for what they do,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. “They do a lot of zone blocking, but they’ll get to the second level and work on the cut blocks. They do a lot of speed sweeps, and they need a lot of guys who can run and hit, and they have a bunch of those. They do just a great job overall.”
To prepare for the spread option, Richt had the Bulldogs wear full pads in practice on Monday, and the coach indicated that he might continue the approach the rest of this week and maybe into next week, too.
Richt said the best way to practice against the spread option and cut blocks is to take a full-speed approach.
After facing Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs will play a more traditional offense, likely No. 4 Alabama’s, in the SEC championship. Richt, though, insists that Georgia’s defense needs to concern itself only with stopping the spread option and not look ahead at dates that might seem bigger on a national stage.
“Some of the schemes and responsibilities will be vastly different — there’s no doubt about that,” Richt said. “If we don’t focus on this we’ll get embarrassed badly.”
Georgia Southern has never beaten an FBS opponent in 19 tries, but those kinds of numbers didn’t stop the Eagles from giving up before they faced Alabama last year in Tuscaloosa.
The Eagles, who have won six FCS national titles, racked up 302 yards rushing in a 45-21 loss to the eventual national champion Crimson Tide.
Like any team facing a spread option, Georgia will need to force abundant three-and-outs. Spread option attacks are dependent on converting third downs and controlling the clock.
Bulldogs nose guard John Jenkins, whose defense has forced 55 three-and-outs this year to rank fourth nationally, says it would be a pleasure to get off the field as quickly as possible.
“I really don’t like that type of offense where they just chop your knees and they grab your leg and roll up on you and hold your leg,” Jenkins said. “That’s no fun. I think it’s cheating. They do it legally, but it shouldn’t be legal.”
For Jenkins, who hopes to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft next year, there’s a fine line between trying to win a game and using a technique that could threaten a career.
In last year’s win over Georgia Tech, former Georgia defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson was lost for the season and missed the SEC title game loss to LSU because of a cut block that injured his ankle.
“It’s a different way to look at it when you’re toying with people’s livelihoods,” Jenkins said. “I’ve read stories about people getting cut the wrong way and they no longer can play football. They’re using football to feed their family, so it’s kind strange and different.”
Commings just hopes the Bulldogs’ defense comes through both games at full strength.
“We pretty much get cut on every running play they run,” Commings said. “Whether it’s by a receiver or one of the wing backs looping around to cut us, it’s a difficult offense to face. They cut on every play, every position.”