Georgia's defense has already faced fierce challenges from Clemson and South Carolina – and the Bulldogs largely struggled against the two top-10 opponents -- but Todd Grantham's defense started to show signs of promise last Saturday against North Texas.
Most notably, the Bulldogs limited the Mean Green to one offensive touchdown and just 7 rushing yards – a total that was tied for the fewest in an FBS game this season before Louisville topped that number by holding Florida International to 3 on Saturday.
Earlier this week, Grantham discussed what he's seeing from his rebuilt defense and what must happen this weekend against No. 6 LSU in order for Georgia's defensive progress to continue.
Obviously the stats from the North Texas game looked really good. When you went back and watched it on film, what did you see?
Todd Grantham: I thought our guys were really physical up front. We did a good job of setting the edge to the formations in the run game. We were stout inside. The longest run was 8 yards. I thought we did a good job of tackling in space, so I was pleased with that. We were good on third down, right at 75 percent. Anytime you can top the run and get them in third-and-long situations, you've got a chance to be pretty good.
The LSU team you played in the 2011 SEC championship game was really, really run-heavy. How is defending this offense different from defending that one?
TG: This offense can still run the ball effectively, but now they have a passing game to go with it. And anytime that you can run the ball as effectively as they can, it's going to open up play-action passing down the field. You've got to understand that and you've got to prepare for it and you've got to make plays down the field on the ball. Obviously they're going to challenge us and be ready for that challenge.
You've got some guys on this bunch that were on that team. Is there a teachable element about playing a full game because of how they were able to run the ball more and more effectively over the course of that game? (LSU rushed for 202 yards in the second half of the 42-10 win after trailing 10-7 at halftime and failing to generate a single first down in the opening half).
TG: I think that's the mentality of their team as a whole is they're going to try to wear you down. You've got to understand that and anticipate that and prepare for that. From that standpoint, you've got to prepare for a 60-minute battle. You know it's going to be physical and you've got to rise up to the challenge and be ready to play as physical as they do.
You had just arrived at Georgia when Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray were competing to start here in 2010. Obviously Zach is a lot older and more mature, but what are you seeing from him now as LSU's quarterback that you didn't see back then?
TG: Well, right now he's running an offense. The biggest thing now is he's able to go out and run an NFL offense. He understands where to go with the ball with passes and he's got a really strong arm. He's accurate with the deep ball and he's making plays and not turning the ball over. So that combination allows you to be pretty good on offense.
Your guys have only given up two touchdowns on the last 18 drives. Are you starting to feel like you're turning a corner? Where are y'all along the path of what you can be?
TG: I go back and that stat could even be better here or there. But that's where we are from the standpoint of you've got to make plays. The difference is we've made some plays lately. I think we've improved. I think that anytime you have young people, you've got to continue to push them and stay on them from the standpoint of, 'Hey we've got to continue to work' because in football, you have to get better each day in practice because if you wait until the game to get better, you're going to fall behind. And that's the way I've always approached football is you have to practice every day to get better because you only play so many games and you can't get better on Saturdays. So to the players' credit, they've worked hard, they've worked to improve and they understand the importance of the game -- they're working on the game plan -- so we've just got to execute and play with the kind of physical attitude you need to play a team like LSU.