ATHENS, Ga. -- If Georgia's games against rival Georgia Tech since 2010 have proven anything, it's that there will be more than enough opportunities for the Bulldogs' defensive ends to make their presence known.
Since Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham brought his 3-4 base defense to Athens that year, his ends have tallied some of the biggest tackle totals of their careers against Georgia Tech -- and he offered a simple explanation for that production.
"Like anything, if you have size in the middle or you have guys that are hard to block up front, it's hard to run the ball," said Grantham, whose third-ranked Bulldogs (10-1) host Georgia Tech on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN). "So I think that having the ability to be able to control the line of scrimmage against any offense is critical."
Make no mistake, the Yellow Jackets (6-5) plan to run the ball early and often. Coach Paul Johnson's flexbone offense is known for generating huge play, point and rushing yardage totals, and its games against Grantham's Georgia defenses are no exception.
In his defense's first outing against Tech's option game, Grantham's 2010 defense gave up a whopping 92 plays, 512 total yards (411 rushing) and 32 first downs in Georgia's 42-34 win. Defensive linemen Abry Jones and DeAngelo Tyson tied for the team lead with 16 tackles apiece -- far and away the career high for both players. Jones was named SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week afterward, having also notched two tackles for a loss and forced a fumble against the Yellow Jackets.
The Bulldogs did a better job against Tech's option last season, allowing 355 total yards (243 rushing), 70 plays and 20 first downs in Georgia's 31-17 win. Defensive end Garrison Smith was named SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week after a career-high seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss against the Yellow Jackets. Jones also had seven stops.
"They're going to have opportunities to make tons of plays," Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said of the defensive ends. "I think Garrison was a top tackler last year besides Alec [Ogletree, who led the team with 11 tackles]. There's a lot of inside runs. There's a lot of getting cut, getting off the ground and tackling the fullback right up close."
Last Saturday's 45-14 win against Georgia Southern and its highly similar flexbone attack continued the pattern for Bulldogs defensive linemen against the option. Smith tied for third on the team with seven tackles. Nose guard Kwame Geathers totaled a season-high five tackles and defensive end Ray Drew got in on a season-high four stops.
But that's not to say the practice made them a sure bet to shut down Tech's option -- not when the Eagles rushed for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"I wouldn't say we're getting the hang of it. I would just say guys are trying really hard," Smith said. "You can never get the hang of the offense, because it's so good and so tricky, so all you do is just give your all every play, and that's what everybody's doing. Georgia Tech, they've got some great coaches over there. Coach Paul Johnson, he coaches them guys up real good, and they execute very well. You look at film of them and it shows."
Georgia Tech again ranks among the nation's best rushing teams this season. The Yellow Jackets are third in the FBS with an average of 324.91 rushing yards per game. They're 28th in total offense at 461.73 yards per game and tied for 13th in time of possession at 32:16 per game.
They recovered from a 2-4 start to claim the ACC Coastal Division title with last week's 42-24 win against Duke. At the center of that resurgence is Johnson's always-dangerous rushing attack, which helped the Yellow Jackets average 47.7 points over the last three games.
That makes it imperative for the Bulldogs' defenders to play their assignments effectively and consistently -- or there could be dire consequences.
"Don't ever get bored doing your job. Don't try to do somebody else's job. Do your job. With this age group, unfortunately they get bored easy and sometimes they forget and don't want to do their job. So we've got to just keep hammering, hammering, hammering, 'Do your job.'
"If you've got dive, take dive. If you've got quarterback, take quarterback. If you're on the pitch, take pitch. But whatever it is that's your job, no matter how dirty it is, do your job."
Garner's players seem to be embracing that message as Saturday's game approaches, echoing what their position coach said.
"It's mainly more mental than physical, because it ain't about nobody just out-physicaling you and dominating you," Smith said. "It's about you doing your assignment, and if you don't do it, one person don't do their assignment, that's the touchdown they're going to get. All it takes is for one person to not do their job and it's a touchdown."