Georgia stresses fundamentals to help defense vs. up-tempo offenses

Georgia linebacker Azeez Ojulari sacks Auburn quarterback Bo Nix for a loss Saturday, Oct 3, 2020 in Athens. Georgia beat Auburn 27-6. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Kirby Smart used the word “sloppy” seven times in just under 20 minutes during his Zoom media video conference Tuesday evening.

He wasn’t talking about his own team. Third-ranked Georgia has won its first three games of the season by a combined score of 108-37 and boasts one of the top defenses in the country. Of course, there are always areas that coaches would like to improve, but so far, the Bulldogs have lived up to their billing as one of the nation’s top teams.

Instead, Smart was talking about the trend toward offenses playing with a faster and faster tempo — and the sloppiness that produces in defenses when offenses play faster.

On Saturday, Lane Kiffin’s up-tempo offense at Ole Miss kept its game against Alabama close until late in the fourth quarter, and the 63-48 final score made it the highest scoring regulation game in SEC history. As Georgia prepares for a marquee matchup with the No. 2 Crimson Tide on Saturday, the way Kiffin’s tempo wore down Alabama’s defense was frequently brought up Tuesday as something the Bulldogs might put in their own game plan.

“We’re not Ole Miss. We don’t run the same offense,” Smart said. “... Lane does a really good job scheming things. He understands what defenses are trying to do, especially that defense. He was able to take advantage of some of those things with a really athletic quarterback. A lot of it had to do with tempo.

“You create sloppy play when you go (up) tempo. That’s no offense to Ole Miss and that’s no offense to Alabama. I see it with us. Somebody goes tempo, it gets really sloppy. At times, offensively, we’ve gone tempo, and it gets really sloppy. I think you just have to be aware that that can happen.”

To combat the sloppiness that can occur when an opponent increases the tempo, which is becoming more common throughout the SEC and college football as a whole, Smart’s staff focuses on two keys. One, they work on a fundamental element of football — something like tackling or a specific block protection — every day in practice. Two, as senior defensive back Richard LeCounte described it, they practice “very fast.”

“Our defensive staff has done a great job of harping on the fundamentals,” Smart said. “I think that fundamentals are a foregone conclusion. It’s like it’s lost in football now. Everybody’s defenses are just giving up. They’re just like, ‘OK, let’s get the ball back to the offense. Let’s try to cause turnovers and sacks and give up big plays. Either they’ll score or they won’t.’ We’re trying every day to do something fundamentally.”

Georgia’s defense is one of the stingiest units in the country, particularly in the run game. The Bulldogs have the nation’s best run defense and give up an average of only 38.3 rushing yards per game. Part of that success comes from a focus on fundamentals like tackling technique, which is key for stopping the run.

The fact that Georgia’s players take pride in their brand of defense and their work on fundamentals helps, too.

“That’s something we pride ourselves on,” LeCounte said. “It’s 11 guys to the ball every time the ball is being snapped, 11 guys playing together. That’s something that you can always count on coming from this Georgia defense. Monday through Friday we practice like there’s not gonna be no tomorrow. We hit each other. We thud each other. That’s the way football needs to be played and (we) keep the fine principles defined.”

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