SHREVEPORT, Louisiana - Georgia finished the regular season with an impressive 30-24 win over No. 7 Georgia Tech in the annual grudge match for state bragging rights, but the win brought the Bulldogs to a disappointing 7-5 season after starting the season ranked No. 13 in the country. A major reason for Georgia falling below expectations had to do with a team ranked No. 119 out of 120 teams in turnover margin and allowed over 26 points per game.
The season resulted in Georgia head coach Mark Richt releasing defensive coordinator/secondary coach Willie Martinez, defensive ends coach Jon Fabris and defensive co-coordinator/linebackers coach John Jancek. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner will coach the Bulldog defense along with graduate assistants Todd Hartley and Mitch Doolittle.
And Richt, an offensive-minded coach, has spent extra time personally with the defense leading up the Bulldog's Independence Bowl date with Texas A&M on Monday at 4 p.m. in Shreveport, Louis. Richt will have his work cut out for him with the Aggies as A&M ranks in the top 25 of each of the four major offensive categories (rushing, passing, total and scoring).
"My main role with the defense was to try to set some parameters with the defensive staff and say let's not try to reinvent the wheel. Let's not try to do some things our guys aren't comfortable with," Richt said. "Let's do the things that we do and the things our guys are comfortable with. Let's get a plan that's sound, very sound, and hopefully as simple as possible so we can put our players in position to make plays. That's the thing. I want them to be very confident to know exactly what to do on every single play, so you can play fast and play physical."
Richt's thoughts weren't just on the defensive strategy and play on the field, but also of the respect shown to his green assistants in the meeting rooms, and Richt came away pleased with his players.
"I just wanted to be around the players and be around the meetings with the assistant coaches and just make sure everyone was staying on task," Richt said. "I was very, very pleased with our player's attitudes with how the whole thing played out. I never had to try to grab a guy and say hey, let's show coach the respect he deserves in this situation. Our guys have been fantastic in that regard and I'm just proud of all of them."
Richt's defense, however, does have to contend with a high-powered A&M offense that poured yards and points on No. 2 Texas in the season finale, and the Longhorns owned a top five national defense. Led by quarterback Jerrod Johnson, the Aggies have a plethora of threats all over the field.
And Richt knows that the Aggies have the potential to put his young defensive staff to the test early and often.
"They are a challenge. They have multiple formations and multiple personnel groups. They go at a very rapid pace, and they're just highly effective at what they do. They rush the ball at not quite 200 yards a game, but 180 or 190 yards a game and they throw for over 250, 270, 280 or whatever it is. It's just a lot of offense," Richt said. "As simple as you might want to make a game plan defensively against that many personnel groups and that many changes in formations and the pace at which they go it creates problems. The biggest problem we had during practice is trying to simulate it with our scout team. It's just impossible to do. I'm sure early in the game is going to be important just to get used to the tempo and how fast they're going to play."
The A&M offense isn't the only thing Richt is worried about. The Independence Bowl is sold out and it's expected to be jam-packed full of Aggie fans. To compensate for the noise, Richt has already changed his team to a silent count on offense.
"We feel like that there will be enough crowd noise generated by Texas A&M fans that we will go without our audible cadence just because if it's loud enough where we can't hear our kids we better learn our signs," Richt said.