ATHENS, Ga. -- Stats don’t lie -- and in this case, the stats say that Georgia has not defended the run well this season.
After surrendering 300-plus rushing yards in each of the last three games, Georgia (11-2) dropped to 77th nationally in run defense with an average of 177.8 yards per game. But while they can’t dispute that Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech and Alabama all topped the 300-yard mark, the Bulldogs insist that those numbers are somewhat deceptive.
Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, after all, typically run the ball on nearly every down in their option offensive sets. And Alabama also boasts a particularly powerful running game with a veteran offensive line and two star tailbacks in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. So some Georgia defenders are quick to discount any notion that the Bulldogs are weak against the run.
“I feel like it’s just people talking,” inside linebacker Mike Gilliard said. “I feel like that as a defense, we’ve already established ourselves as an aggressive defense. Against Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern, those types of things are bound to happen because those are running teams. Against Alabama, Alabama was a very talented team. So I feel like it just happened that way.”
Following a series of sluggish efforts in the first half of the season, Georgia’s defense got back to the aggressive style that helped the Bulldogs rank 11th nationally against the run in 2011 with an average of just more than 100 yards allowed per game. They surrendered fewer than 100 rushing yards in three consecutive games -- 75 to Florida, 46 to Ole Miss and 57 to Auburn -- and held those three plus Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech to their season low in scoring before the Alabama game.
Against Alabama, however, Georgia’s defense struggled mightily for much of the second half against Alabama’s physical rushing attack. The Tide ran 51 times for 350 yards, an average of 6.9 yards per carry.
“They outphysicaled us,” inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “They did good at that part of the game, in that phase of the game, in the running phase, they won.”
Georgia was its own worst enemy in many ways against the Tide, attempting to deliver big hits on Lacy and Yeldon instead of wrapping them up with textbook tackle attempts. And they knew going in that such an outcome was likely if they didn’t play with sound defensive technique.
“I told them, ‘You’re not going to be able to knock these guys down. You might knock them down a time or two, but if your goal is to knock them down, you’re not going to knock them down. You’re going to get embarrassed. You’ve got to wrap up and run your feet until you get them on the ground. Sometimes it might get ugly, but you have to be able to do that,’ ” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
“Really the goal is not to provide a whole lot of space to begin with to get it going,” he added. “It’s just like our backs. If you give them a little bit of space and a little momentum, it’s tough for one man to bring them down. But that’s just football, and that’s defense. We had a couple times where we could have made some stops I think if we just wrapped up better.”
The Bulldogs’ opponent in the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl, Nebraska (10-3), represents a fourth straight test of their run defense. The Cornhuskers rank eighth nationally with an average of 254.5 rushing yards per game and feature three talented runners in quarterback Taylor Martinez (74.8 yards per game) and running backs Ameer Abdullah (83.8) and Rex Burkhead (76.4).
It’s also an opportunity to focus on the weak points from the Alabama game, and to a lesser degree the two games against option teams that preceded it, and try to improve.
“You’ve just got to keep going back and fixing the issues and I think whenever we have something negative happen, we learn from it and you just don’t want to make the same mistake over and over again,” inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. “I think going into this next game, that’ll be something that will show is we’ll hopefully improve and you just don’t have the same old issues over again.”