ATHENS, Ga. — With a war of words brewing between the defenses of Georgia and Louisiana State University before the Southeastern Conference Championship game, Sanders Commings didn’t come out of his corner Tuesday to play peacemaker.
“We just have to win this game to prove that we’re the best defense in the SEC,” said Commings, the Bulldogs’ junior cornerback out of Westside. “If we do that then you can’t argue that we aren’t. We definitely need to win this game. If we do, everyone in the conference will see that we are the best.”
It isn’t an entirely indefensible argument. Both the Bulldogs and Tigers rank among the five best defenses statistically in the nation, although LSU sits a higher in every defensive category. Considering the No. 1 Tigers are undefeated and expected by many to be a lock to play for the BCS title in January, the confidence that Georgia’s less heralded defenders are showing has raised a few eyebrows in Baton Rouge, La.
The bulletin-board material started on Monday when Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones said in a conference call “I think our defense is just as good as theirs, if not better.” That assessment quickly spread across social media, prompting LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard to tweet, “Is this dude serious?”
Judging from Commings’ unqualified comments Tuesday, Georgia is very serious.
“They’ve played well this year, but our players are just as good as theirs,” said the typically soft-spoken Commings. “Our defense is better than theirs is. So, I’m not really worried about how good they say they are or people saying we don’t have a chance.”
What makes Commings believe Georgia is “better?”
“I think we have better players, better coaches,” Commings said. “The way that we’re playing right now, I don’t think anybody can run on us or throw on us.”
Bold words coming from a unit that started the year 0-2 and hasn’t faced the kind of quality opposition that LSU has in defeating No. 2 Alabama, No. 6 Arkansas and No. 8 Oregon.
“Since they think we haven’t been tested so far, I guess our test is Saturday,” said Commings. “It’s going to be interesting what people say once we pass this test.”
Commings also wasn’t shy about adding his two cents about the other programs regarded as the SEC West’s best and why Georgia stacks up better against LSU than either the Crimson Tide or Razorbacks.
“Our offense is definitely better than Alabama’s,” he said. “We can run as well as pass the ball. We have a great quarterback who has experience. We don’t have to have a perfect game because the offense has our back and we have their back.
“Arkansas doesn’t have the defense we have. When LSU got the ball they pretty much scored whenever they wanted to.”
Commings may have some good points, but why produce motivational fodder for a team that has already established its dominance and might feed off the fuel of being disrespected?
“We want them to be motivated,” he said. “We want them to give us their best shot because that’s what we’re gonna do. He hope they play as hard as they can. We feel that we can stop anybody. We respect them. They are the best team in the country. We’re going to play them like they are. But we don’t fear anybody.”
Saturday’s SEC title shot in a sold-out Georgia Dome is a career moment for Commings. His parents, Norma and Sanders Sr., and siblings (Treazure, 18, and Aaron, 13) will be among his contingent in Atlanta watching the biggest opportunity of his football career.
“It means everything,” Commings said. “I’ve dreamed of playing in games like this. Being from the state of Georgia, in high school I never got far enough in the playoffs to play the Dome. I never got to do that. Fortunately this is my second time playing in it this year. I’m excitement about the opportunity and ready to make some plays.”
LSU’s run-oriented offense will pose a huge challenge for Georgia’s rush defense that ranks sixth in the nation. Commings believes that bodes well for the Bulldogs’ secondary.
“Keep everything in front of us and not allow any big plays,” he said of the gameplan. “We’re trusting those guys in front of us to not allow them to get any plays running the ball. Our defense is better playing teams that try to run right at us. Nobody runs the ball on us and if we make a team one-dimensional we can cover anybody’s pass attack.”
Georgia’s secondary has been calling itself the “money team” all season since a freshman dubbed them that making a joke and it stuck.
“We take pride in covering people and we think we’re the best at it,” Commings said. “If someone in the secondary gets beat in a game, you owe us now. You owe the money team.”
On Saturday, Georgia will put its “money team” where its mouth is. Commings and his defensive mates aren’t backing down from the challenge.
“This is a must win,” he said. “Nobody on this team has ever won an SEC Championship. Losing is not an option. We’re going to do whatever we have to win this game. They’re the No. 1 team in the nation so they’re going to have all the hype. But we’ll see who finishes with it after the game.”