Georgia’s No. 1-ranked defense feasts on ‘nuggets’

Georgia defenders smother Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. to bring up third down and 16 yards during the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. Georgia won 30-13. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Georgia defenders smother Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. to bring up third down and 16 yards during the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. Georgia won 30-13. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked after Saturday’s game against Kentucky what he thought set apart the Bulldogs’ defense. His answer might come as a surprise.

Smart did not mention Jordan Davis or Nakobe Dean or any other star players by name. Instead, he referenced “nuggets.” And Charlie Brown.

Nuggets are the bits of information that Georgia’s defensive coaches have discovered during film study of the opposing offense and share with the players in team meetings. Things like, “they run bootlegs to their left 10 times more than their right” or “when they line up in this formation, then this play is coming.”

“That’s a nugget, and they embrace those things,” Smart said after the Bulldogs’ 30-13 win over 11th-ranked Wildcats. “There’s a lot of college football teams that go into a meeting and it’s like Charlie Brown: ‘Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah.’ We don’t do that. We entertain, we play music, we challenge, we make guys stand up. There’s teaching.”

So, the pressure each week is on coordinator Dan Lanning and defensive assistants Jahmile Addae, Will Muschamp, Glenn Schumann and Tray Scott to have some nuggets ready for their respective position groups each Monday when the team regathers to begin preparations for the next opponent.

“My favorite part of the day is when you go into a meeting and all the kids say, ‘give me a nugget. Give me a nugget, Coach. Give me a nugget,’” Smart said.

Last week, those nuggets were on No. 11 Kentucky. The Wildcats came in with SEC’s leading rusher in running back Chris Rodriguez. Averaging 128 yards a game coming in, Rodriguez finished with 7 yards on 7 carries. Georgia won 30-13.

Caption
Georgia defenders smother Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. to bring up third down and 16 years during the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia defenders smother Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. to bring up third down and 16 years during the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Georgia defenders smother Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. to bring up third down and 16 years during the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

This Monday, those nuggets will be on Florida. The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (7-0, 5-0 SEC) head to Jacksonville on Oct. 30 for the annual clash known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

More often than not, that matchup figures prominently in the outcome of the SEC’s Eastern Division. That certainly was the case last year as No. 8 Florida took down the Bulldogs 44-28.

However, the Gators (4-3) will come limping into TIAA Bank Field this year. Their 49-42 loss at LSU Saturday was their third in five SEC games this season and effectively took them out of the East race.

But it’s still Georgia-Florida. The Gators most certainly will be motivated to topple their rivals from the top of college football mountain. Florida’s best offensive trait is running the football. It is second in the SEC and fifth nationally in rushing offense with 254.3 yards per game. The Gators are No. 9 nationally in total offense at 501.7 yards per game.

Georgia will counter with a defense that ranks No. 1 in yardage allowed (207.1 ypg), No. 1 in points allowed (6.6 ppg) and No. 2 against the run (63.6 ypg).

Georgia Bulldogs stats

With an extra week of preparation due to the bye week, one can be sure that the Bulldogs’ defense will be studied-up for the Gators. Georgia’s coaches certainly will give them all the insight they possibly can on the differences between quarterbacks Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson and the offense’s tendencies when one or the other is in the game.

That said, it still comes down to blocking and tackling, and the Bulldogs are pretty good on that front, too.

“Please don’t mistake it for not having good players,” Smart said of Georgia’s defensive prowess. “We’ve got good players. But those things combined help, and I appreciate our staff, offense, defense, special teams, for the way they coach our players and teach our players.”

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