I have a love/hate relationship with G-Day. On the one hand, G-Day offers football, fellowship, and a good excuse to spend a spring Saturday in the Classic City; on the other hand, no good can come of a game in which any great play, by definition, exposes a weakness in your favorite team.
It was in that frame of mind that I ventured to Athens on a sunny yet windy day which was to be spent in the company of my fellow members of the Dawg Sports community. To my way of thinking, the Georgia Bulldogs were 1-1-1 in the contests I attended over the course of the afternoon, winning at baseball and losing at men’s tennis after a Sanford Stadium scrimmage that I am treating as a draw. Granted, the Black beat the Red, 18-11, but the game was more of a hodgepodge even than usual. With the secondary depleted by injury to the point of being unrecognizable, it was hard to gauge not only the defensive backfield, but also the quarterbacks and the receiving corps, although dropped balls are never a good sign on passing plays, under any conditions. (The drops continued at halftime during the quarterbacks challenge, but, really, you can’t blame that one on the signal callers, yet good for David Greene for making a game of it with Matthew Stafford.)
It is open to debate, therefore, just how much about the 2011 team might be gleaned from an in-depth examination of the course of the game. Certainly, we can agree that Kwame Geathers and Alec Ogletree looked solid at nose tackle and inside linebacker, respectively, but, then again, Connor Norman was in on a lot of plays, too. Many a scout team standout has wowed the crowd at G-Day, never to be seen between the hedges on an autumn Saturday.
What we might take away from the game, though, is this:
- Georgia scored 29 points and gained 491 yards of total offense, which isn’t a bad weekend’s work in the fall, but those numbers represent the combined total of the two teams in 48 minutes of play.
- The winning team amassed 225 yards and tallied 18 points.
- The losing team had four giveaways.
- The halftime score was 5-3.
- The game’s leading rusher had 48 yards on 13 carries. That tailback, Carlton Thomas, collected most of his yardage to the outside, as there was not much ground to be gained up the middle.
Once again, there was little we could learn about the team’s strength overall, but G-Day tells us plenty about the Bulldogs’ philosophy, and it may tell us some about the attitude that will find expression in execution and in that tenacity characterized by Erk Russell as "intelligent fanaticism." The overall impression I carried with me from Sanford Stadium might best be summarized with these words:
In all situations, we will defend the inside or middle of the field first – defend inside to outside. Against the run, we will not allow the ball to be run inside. We want to force the ball outside. Against the pass, we will not allow the ball to be thrown deep down the middle or inside. We want to force the ball to be thrown short and/or outside. . . .
Finally, our job is to take the ball away from the opponents’ offense and score or set up good field position for our offense. We must knock the ball loose, force mistakes, and cause turnovers. Turnovers and making big plays win games. We will be alert and aggressive and take advantage of every opportunity to come up with the ball. . . . The trademark of our defense will be effort, toughness, and no mental mistakes regarding score or situation in any game.
We saw some of that in practice on Saturday, and we certainly saw that attitude embodied in the approach adopted by the defense on G-Day. I found that encouraging, because the above passage is taken from one of the LSU Tigers’ old defensive playbooks. Those are the words of Nick Saban, who has guided two different SEC programs to national championships with that philosophy. Although his first season of running the 3-4 defense at the Capstone in 2007 produced a 6-6 regular-season record, the Alabama Crimson Tide improved dramatically in Coach Saban’s second year in Tuscaloosa.
Before moving to Baton Rouge, Coach Saban was the head coach of the Michigan St. Spartans for five years. On his staff in East Lansing was a defensive line coach who was awarded the additional title of assistant head coach in his final year working for Coach Saban.
Nick Saban’s defensive line coach and assistant head coach at Michigan State was a gentleman by the name of Todd Grantham, whose name, it should be noted, cannot be spelled without "GATA."