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Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has been nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant in college football.

Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker up for Broyles Award, given to nation‘s top assistant

Cy Brown

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Mel Tucker nominated for Broyles Award

Kirby Smart receives the bulk of the praise for turning Georgia’s defense into one of the best in college football in less than two years on the job, and understandably so. He helped engineer some of the best college football defenses of the last decade while defensive coordinator at Alabama. But Smart didn’t turn this defense around by himself. Far from it. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker deserves a healthy bit of recognition for his role in transforming Georgia’s defense, and he may get it come award season.

On Wednesday, Tucker was announced as a nominee for the Frank Broyles Award, given annually to the best assistant in college football. He’s one of 56 coaches nominated out of more than 1,500 total assistant coaches at FBS programs. Smart won the Broyles Award as an Alabama assistant in 2009. Brian VanGorder won it in 2003 as Georgia’s defensive coordinator.

Under the tutelage of Tucker, the Georgia defense has been one of the staunchest units in college football this season. The Bulldogs rank seventh nationally in total defense (254.1 ypg), third in scoring (11.7 ppg), fifth in rushing (89 ypg), seventh in passing (165.1 ypg), and eighth in defensive S&P+ (17.0).

Tucker has been a college and NFL assistant for more than two decades. He worked as the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Chicago Bears while in the NFL ranks. At the college level, he’s had stints at Miami (Ohio), LSU, and Ohio State, and worked alongside Smart on the Alabama defensive staff before joining him in Athens. Although he’s a lifelong assistant — aside from a five-game stint as the Jaguars’ interim head coach — Tucker, 45, has been reported to be in the running for head coaching gigs as recently as two seasons ago and will likely be a candidate for more in the future.

“Mel’s a great leader,” Smart said earlier this month, according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. “He commands great respect. Players really follow Mel’s lead. He does a tremendous job of game planning, X and O-ing, calling the game. But more important than that, he’s a very loyal soldier that helps guys out. If guys are struggling or their confidence is struggling, he’s able to go to pep them up. They follow his lead. So yeah, he’d do a tremendous job. He’s been an interim coach before, and I know he’d do a tremendous job given the opportunity.”

Vince Dooley’s role in beating Auburn

When put in context of the 125-year history of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, Georgia and Auburn are pretty even. The Bulldogs hold a 57-55-8 advantage, but the rivalry has been decidedly more lopsided in recent years. Georgia is the victor of 11 of the last 15 meetings between the school. According to legendary Georgia coach and AD Vince Dooley, you can thank him for the Dawgs’ success against the Tigers over the last 15 years. From Seth Emerson of DawgNation:

Every year from 1953-2001, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry had immediately followed the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail party. Georgia played Florida and then turned around and immediately played Auburn. It took a toll, which Dooley knew from first coaching the Bulldogs and then serving as athletic director.

“I said, ‘If there’s one damn thing I’m going to do I’m going to separate the Florida and Auburn games,’ ” Dooley said. “That was the toughest thing we ever had to do, was to play those two teams back-to-back.”

So during three days in Birmingham, Dooley can’t remember which year, the SEC athletic directors hashed it out so Georgia would get a break in between those arch-rivalry games. That started in 2002, and ever since then, the Bulldogs have had the better of the rivalry with Auburn.

He’s been retired for more than a decade, but Dooley is still helping Georgia beat Auburn. Talk about a DGD.

Dawgs are healthy for the stretch run

One thing setting Georgia apart from other top teams in the SEC and around the country is the health of the Dawgs. Georgia has no major injuries at the moment. Compare that to Auburn, which is without star tailback Kamryn Pettway, or Alabama, which lost two starting linebackers in a win over LSU last weekend.

It’s actually kind of astounding that Georgia has managed to stay as healthy as it has this season, considering how much Smart has ratcheted up the intensity of practice since coming to Athens. Smart reckons that’s the result of some combination of science — Georgia uses GPS technology to track player movement in practice, something it’s done since 2015 and that’s been used at Alabama to great success — consistently killing games before the fourth quarter, and luck. From Emerson:

“You follow science,” Smart said, whose staff closely monitors players during practice on the GPS devices they wear. “We’re comparing the numbers this year to last year.  We’re seeing how many guys are hitting top speeds in the games. If they continue to hit their top speeds, then we continue to do what we do.  But if they slow down, then we have to slow down.”

It also helps, Smart added, that the Bulldogs have been able to pull starters in the fourth quarter of so many games. The team’s depth this year also allows more subbing and resting.

“You’ve got to practice smart, but you’ve got to practice physical,” Smart said. “And some of it has been luck.  You’ve got to have some luck on your side in preventing injuries, and we have been very fortunate.”

‘That’s the worst thing you can get, complacent’

The always-excellent Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post was in Athens recently to take a look at the No. 1 Bulldogs’ mimicry of the Alabama mindset. Read the whole post, but here’s one anecdote that illustrates where Georgia players’ heads are at right now.

John Atkins, Georgia’s 315-pound nose tackle with the sparkling personality, told about another method. About a week ago, Atkins said, Georgia players wrote down three things they found positive about the season and three things they found troubling. These were read to the team, as if some sort of twisted on-campus haiku reading.

For the positive, Atkins said he mentioned the team’s unquestionable physicality, as well as its bond, which he finds formidable. Conversely, he mentioned complacency, and even though the Bulldogs haven’t demonstrated any notable complacency, Atkins said, “That’s the worst thing you can get, complacent.”

The inside scoop

Special teams could be the X-factor this Saturday against Auburn, if only because former Auburn special teams coordinator and current Georgia special teams consultant Scott Fountain’s intimate knowledge of the Auburn system.

“He knows their whole system,” Georgia punter Cameron Nizialek said, according to Weiszer. “He’s done a great job helping us implement our punt team and special teams phases. He knows the other returners, their coverage guys, who’s holding us up. I think it’s going to be good. It will help us cover well and hopefully we can do that.”

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