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Dawgs bringing back memories of Erk Russell’s defenses
The most popular — and hopeful — comparison for the Georgia defense this season has been Alabama. That’s understandable. Coach Kirby Smart made his bones as the defensive coordinator for the Tide and Nick Saban, so comparisons to Alabama concerning all facets of the program have been constant since he came to Athens, no matter how strained they might be. But the defensive comparisons hold up to scrutiny so far. Alabama is tops in college football in scoring defense, allowing 8.6 points per game. Georgia is second, allowing 9.2. Georgia actually ranks higher than Alabama in total defense and passing defense.
Even though Smart is living up to the reputation he built with the Crimson Tide, he’s still trying to get out of its elephant-sized shadow. He’s trying to forge an identity for himself beyond “Saban Jr.” and create a greater identity for Georgia than “Bama Lite.”
That much was clear when he demurred when asked by a reporter on Monday if it is fair to compare Georgia’s defense to Alabama’s. Instead, Smart offered an alternative comparison, giving a shout-out to legendary defensive coordinator Erk Russell and his famous “Junkyard Dawgs” defenses of the 1970s and ’80s.
“I would argue that Erk Russell would say they are playing ‘Junkyard Dawg’-like, and that means a lot more pride to me being a Georgia alum,” Smart said. “It’s the fact that our kids are playing hard and playing to a standard that was created a long time ago around here, really flying to the ball, hitting people.”
There’s no denying it’s a good name. (Russell, who coined “Junkyard Dawgs,” certainly had a way with words.) But does it match the performance of the 2017 Bulldogs?
Russell’s defenses were masters of keeping opponents out of the end zone. In his 192 games as defensive coordinator for Georgia, the Bulldogs held opponents to 17 points or fewer 135 times. In 74 of those games, the opponent didn’t eclipse single-digits. Twenty-seven of those games were shutouts. “By our own definition, a Junkyard Dog is a dog completely dedicated to his task, that of defending his goal line,” Russell wrote in 1977.
Georgia hasn’t allowed more than 19 points in a game this season. It’s allowed only 3 points in its last two games combined. If the definition is keeping opponents out of the end zone, it’s safe to say the 2017 Bulldogs defense is worthy of the “Junkyard Dawgs” moniker. And if forging an identity as the “New Junkyard Dawgs” curbs the Alabama comparisons and puts the focus back on Georgia and the excellent football its defense is playing, players, coaches, and fans will be all the happier.
Now, all we need is to print some T-shirts and remix the James Brown classic to Kirby’s Junkyard Dawgs, and we’ll be all set.
Practice does not make perfect; only perfect practice makes perfect
The buzzword (or buzzwords) surrounding Georgia football this season is “culture change.” That’s what many people are chalking up as the reason for the vast improvement of this team from the first to second year under Smart. But what does “culture change” even mean? Based on what Smart and some Georgia players said, it’s all about how you practice.
“The harder you practice, the easier the game is,” junior receiver Terry Godwin said, according to Seth Emerson of DawgNation. “I would say the culture change to us is just buying into what Coach Smart brought in. I feel like the majority of this team has done it. And it goes to show on game day. You see what it’s producing.”
That dedication in practice took some time to come by and didn’t seem to be present last season. Running back Sony Michel even admitted some players were being “defiant” over the changes Smart was making in practice.
“Last year, it wasn’t what guys expected. It wasn’t what guys were used to,” Michel said after beating the Volunteers on Saturday. “A lot of [the] decisions Coach Smart was making — as a player, if something is hard, your natural instinct is to be defiant and not want to do it. But once you buy in and it works, it’s fun.”
It seems now the players have bought into whatever Smart is selling, and it’s paying dividends on game day.
“I think we’ve grown up a little bit as a team,” Smart said. “I think they’ve seen the evidence in the practice habits they have. We didn’t know it would get the results we wanted from our practice habits last year. They’ve bought in to the fact that if they’re physical on Tuesday and Wednesday, they’ll be physical on Saturday. That’s carrying over.
“I think we’re just a year older. I think that practice habit and culture change has been good for them.”
No QB starter named ahead of Vanderbilt game
Smart declined to name either Jake Fromm or Jacob Eason the starter at quarterback when asked Monday.
“It’ll be just like last week. It’ll be evaluated in practice,” Smart said, according to Emerson. “I do think that Jacob is much closer to 100 percent.”
Defensive tackle Trent Thompson will miss the Vanderbilt game with the sprained MCL in his right knee that he sustained in the win against Tennessee. There’s no date set for his return, and Smart said he would be considered on a week-to-week basis following the game against Missouri on Oct. 14.
The other notable player injured against Tennessee was linebacker Reggie Carter, who appeared concussed when he was taken out of the game on Saturday. The team has not disclosed the nature of his injury. Carter was not at practice Monday, but Smart said he would have a chance to practice and play this week.
Dawgs after Dark
The Year of the Night Game continues. Kickoff for the game between Georgia and Missouri on Oct. 14 in Athens is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on the SEC Network. It will be the fourth night game in Sanford Stadium and the fifth night game in total for Georgia this season.
Dawgs on Twitter
Nick Chubb, SEC Offensive Player of the Week 🏆 pic.twitter.com/WEsEQYOYyG
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) October 3, 2017
— Coach Kirby Smart (@KirbySmartUGA) October 2, 2017
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) October 2, 2017
— My Dog Is Cutest (@mydogiscutest) October 3, 2017
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