ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia Tech will carry the nation’s fourth-ranked rushing attack into the game.
That would seem to be a trouble spot for Georgia, which gave up 323 rushing yards two weeks ago to an Auburn team which also relies heavily on the ground game but in a spread scheme.
Yet the returns the past three years by Todd Grantham’s defense against the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense have trended in the right direction.
Georgia won 42-34, 31-17 and 42-10 while the Yellow Jackets went from 411 rushing yards in 2010 to 243 in 2011 and 306 last year.
“Last year, I thought we actually played it pretty good but it’s a new year,” said Grantham, the fourth-year coordinator who has just three starters back from the Georgia Tech game last year. “The big thing is you can’t give up the explosive plays. When they can get the running game going, particularly with the fullback, it can be a long day.”
Georgia nose guard Chris Mayes, a junior college transfer, will have a big role in trying to stop B-backs David Sims (team-leading 746 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns) and Zach Lacksey (448 rushing yards, seven touchdowns).
Mayes, part of a Georgia defense giving up 138.1 yards per game, said he’s never played against an offense quite like the style the Yellow Jackets will bring.
“I feel like I should be able to make a lot of plays,” Mayes said. “Running up the middle, I don’t think me and Garrison (Smith) and the other d-linemen, the guys in the box, we’re not going to allow that. They can rule that out. They can option outside or something.”
He then laughed.
Mayes is expecting a steady stream of cut-blocks.
“We’re cutting every day in practice,” Grantham said.
Mayes expects his will come from center Jay Finch.
“You’ve got to watch your feet every single play,” Mayes said. “I think they know I’m more of a power guy, a bull-rusher. He’s not going to block me straight up half the time. I’ve got to be ready to play with my hands and move my feet.”
Georgia Tech’s threat on the outside is former walk-on Robert Godhigh, who has rushed for 648 yards and six touchdowns and averages 10.9 yards per carry.
“He’s not the tallest guy in the world or the biggest, but from the hips down he’s really built and solid,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said of the 5-7, 190-pounder. “He’s a really strong guy. …I also think that where those guys get the ball out on the perimeter, they’re more inclinced to break through corners and safeties than the guys inside with the big guys.”
Quarterback Vad Lee (426 rushing yards, six touchdowns) gets the triple-option going.
“You’ve got to defend the middle of the formation, you’ve got to defend the edges with the quarterback and then you’ve got to defend the pitch,” Grantham said. “That’s why it’s triple-option. Everybody’s got to take care of their job. It’s a challenge for us.”
Clemson was able to slow Tech down in the first half of a 55-31 Tigers win on Nov. 14, holding the Yellow Jackets to 72 first-half rushing yards.
“When you don’t do your job, big plays are going to happen so you’ve just got to be disciplined,” Smith said. “This is the game where it’s most important where you’ve got to do it. If your job is to take a certain thing, you’ve got to take that and don’t try to do nobody else’s job because you’re going to give up a big play.”