Another difficult, but different, test for Dogs' defense

ATHENS -- One week after its run defense was exposed by Marcus Lattimore, Georgia will have its pass defense examined by Ryan Mallett.

From South Carolina's tackle-busting runner to Arkansas' strong-armed passer, the tests keep coming for the Georgia defense -- last week a freshman running back who, albeit prematurely, is drawing comparisons to Herschel Walker; this week a junior quarterback who currently tops ESPN.com's "Heisman Predictor" standings.

Georgia's defense hardly could draw back-to-back challenges more disparate than Lattimore and Mallett.

"It's the luck of the draw," Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said.

Last week in Columbia, the Bulldogs drew a running back who coach Mark Richt says will be "one of the best in our league for years to come." Lattimore tormented the Bulldogs for 182 rushing yards on 37 carries, scoring the game's only two touchdowns and by South Carolina coaches' count breaking an incredible 42 tackles.

And on Saturday in Sanford Stadium, the Dogs draw a towering quarterback who Richt calls "probably the No. 1 pro prospect of anybody in the nation." The 6-foot-6, 238-pound Mallett last season set a multitude of Arkansas single-season records, including touchdown passes (30) and passing yards (3,624). This season he has picked up where he left off, throwing for an average of 350.5 yards per game in victories over Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe.

"Ryan every week makes two or three throws that you just go, ‘Wow, nobody else in America could make that play,'" Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said Wednesday.

Said Richt: "I've coached quarterbacks a long time, and actually I used to be able to throw a little bit, and it's just pretty to watch [Mallett] do it. ... It's like throwing darts out there for him."

The Dogs had never seen Lattimore before last week. They got an eyeful of Mallett in Fayetteville, Ark., a year ago.

He threw for 408 yards and five touchdowns, although on that night Georgia senior quarterback Joe Cox matched Mallett touchdown for touchdown and almost yard for yard as the Bulldogs won a 52-41 shootout.

A year later, Arkansas' defense is said to be much-improved. If so, then Georgia's must be, too, in order for the Dogs to beat Mallett again.

Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, an NFL assistant for the past 11 seasons, calls Mallett "an NFL kind of quarterback."

"He can make all the throws. He's got great accuracy," Grantham said. "He's going to be a first-round pick, and he's going to be playing on Sundays. We've got our hands full with him."

Said linebacker Robinson: "I really can't think of [another quarterback] who's that tall and that strong. He's just in a class all of himself. Not blowing him up, but he really is that good. ... He is taller than everybody, so it looks like he's throwing down on everybody."

Georgia's plan of attack starts, not surprisingly, with the pass rush, a focal point of Grantham's 3-4 defense.

"If you can get pressure on Mallett and get him moving, that's a big difference in the game," said outside linebacker Justin Houston, who had three sacks last week. "If you just sit there and let him throw, he'll eat you apart. So we're going to try to ... make him move his feet a little more than normal. Hopefully that will make a difference."

Petrino has built a dynamic offense around Mallett. The Razorbacks have their top five pass-catchers back from last season, including D.J. Williams, the NCAA leader among active tight ends in career receptions (106) and career receiving yards (1,340). Also, the starting wide receivers -- 6-foot-3 Greg Childs and 5-11 Joe Adams -- have combined for 25 catches for 386 yards in Arkansas' first two games.

What's more, Grantham cautions that, for all of Arkansas' throw-and-catch prowess, the Razorbacks will run the ball, too, especially after seeing the success South Carolina had last week.

"Just like everybody else, if you don't stop something, they're going to run it," Grantham said. "People watch tape: ‘Oh, that play worked. Let's run that play.'"

Last week's tape shows atrocious tackling by Georgia, a deficiency that supersedes scheme.

"No matter what you're doing or what you're trying to do, if you don't tackle, it doesn't matter," Georgia secondary coach Scott Lakatos said. "That's priority No. 1 this week: Get that fixed."

And then tackle the next challenge, Mallett.

Georgia ranked ninth among the 12 SEC teams in pass defense last season, when Mallett was one of three quarterbacks to throw for more than 300 yards against the Bulldogs. The pass defense hasn't been severely tested this season, mainly because South Carolina didn't need to throw much with the way Lattimore was running, but that will change Saturday when Mallett comes to Athens.

"He can stand on one hash and throw it to the other sideline," Georgia cornerback Vance Cuff said. "That means you have to stay on your man until the ball is out of his hands. There is no room for error."