Georgia defense eager to reset after second half vs. LSU

TAMPA — Georgia looked like the most dominant defense in America for 30 minutes Dec. 3. Facing the No. 1 team in the nation in the SEC Championship game, the Bulldogs held LSU to 12 yards of offense and zero first downs.

Then the second half happened.

A Georgia turnover deep in its own territory quickly was converted into an LSU touchdown on a 15-yard run. By the time the half was over the Bulldogs’ defense had given up four touchdowns and 207 yards rushing.

“In the second half we just let them get the momentum, and they just kept making plays and making plays,” Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo said. “That was a learning experience for us. We just have to get better from it and correct the mistakes we made from that game.”

That was the last taste of football Georgia’s defense has had. Its next will come Monday against Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. Meanwhile, the Spartans (10-3) play offense a lot like another SEC team the Bulldogs (10-3) have played.

“I’d say with the line they have and the style they play, they’re a lot like LSU,” Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said. “They want to run the ball. The difference is, they have a quarterback that can really sling it. He’s smart, and he knows what he’s doing. It’s an LSU-style offense with a quarterback that wants to throw the ball.”

Robinson refers to Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior is the Spartans’ career record holder in passing touchdowns (65) and completions (696). He’s also the winningest quarterback in school history with 26 victories.

Cousins has completed 72 passes for 1,240 yards and 12 touchdowns to senior wideout B.J. Cunningham (6-2, 215). The Spartans also feature a 900-yard rusher in junior tailback Le’Veon Bell (6-2, 237) and a 655-yard rusher in his backup Edwin Baker (5-9, 210). They play behind a line that averages 301 pounds.

All of which adds up to the Big Ten’s third-most prolific offense at 30.8 points per game.

“They’re an NFL-type team,” said Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who was defensive line coach under Nick Saban at Michigan State from 1996-98. “They utilize multiple tight ends, multiple backs. They’ve got two receivers that can make some plays. The quarterback has very good accuracy with the ball. He’s got good velocity, and he knows where to throw it. We’ll have to play well against them.”

Grantham said he left the LSU game without inordinate concerns about his defense.

“There were a couple of short drives there,” he said. “They returned a couple of punts, there were a couple of turnovers that they got a short field off of. I mean, we’ve got to stop them, but it wasn’t like they drove the length of the field, other than the one drive they had in the fourth quarter. Everything else was pretty correctable.”

Actually, the Tigers had two significant offensive drives. They drove 70 yards in 10 plays to go up 28-10 late in the third quarter. They also had a 93-yard drive that took just four plays thanks to Alfred Blue’s 48-yard touchdown run.

Cousins has had a chance to take a long look at Georgia’s defense, and the Bulldogs definitely got his attention.

“They’re probably the best defense that we’ve played this year, and that alone says it all,” said Cousins, who was second-team All-Big Ten. “They’re a very challenging team led by an All-American at outside linebacker [Jarvis Jones], and he makes plays all over the field. So we need to control him.

“You see no weakness across the field. It just heightens our focus as an offense to make sure we can do everything we need to do in order to have success.”

Overall, Grantham was fairly pleased with the Bulldogs’ last effort, the end result not withstanding.

“If you would have told me we would hold them to [237] yards and 1-of-9 on third down, I would have taken it,” he said. “There were some plays we could have played better, obviously. But I’m fine with where we are. We’ve just got to get ready for this game because they’re a good team.”

The only question now is which Georgia defense will show up.