Rodney Garner, Georgia’s defensive line coach for 15 seasons including the previous three under Grantham, coaches the same position for his alma mater, where he returned last December.
“I told somebody a couple of weeks ago that they know the whole defense,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “They’ve got coach Garner over there. Defensively, we’ve just got to show up because they might have a good idea what we’re going to run with coach Garner.”
Grantham shot down the notion that Auburn would gain any advantage since Garner has switched sides.
“No,” Grantham said. “I mean he’s over there. Obviously, he probably has got the playbook from last year but that’s fine. It’s still a matter of guys executing, guys playing fast. That
will have no factor in the game.”
What will is how the players on defense that Garner helped recruit and those he left behind on the Georgia defensive line play against the SEC’s second-ranked offense.
Under first-year assistant Chris Wilson, Georgia’s defensive line has thrived.
They have 14 of the Bulldogs’ 26 sacks, led by Ray Drew’s six and Garrison Smith’s four. The line produced only 3½ of Georgia’s 32 sacks last season with the likes of Abry Jones, John Jenkins, Kwame Geathers and former Burke County standout Cornelius Washington – all now on NFL rosters.
“We’re doing a good job of developing the guys up front, a guy like Ray Drew has come on and made some plays in there for us,” said Grantham, who also credits some coverage sacks.
Drew, a five-star recruit who is playing like it in his junior season, is sixth in the SEC in sacks.
The defensive line is also a big reason the Bulldogs rank fourth in the SEC in run defense, allowing 126.0 yards per game.
Garner, who is also recruiting coordinator at Auburn like he was at Georgia, was complimentary of Wilson when he returned to Athens this summer to speak to the local Auburn Club: “I think he will do an outstanding job developing those guys and getting them to play probably above their maturity level at an early stage.”
Garner himself is working on developing young talent in defensive end Carl Lawson (18 tackles, 3 sacks), defensive tackle Montravious Adams (16 tackles, 1 sack) and defensive end Elijah Daniel (2 sacks), all true freshmen.
Senior defensive end Dee Ford has seven sacks in eight games.
Among players Garner directly recruited to Georgia were three players out of Atlanta: Smith, cornerback Damian Swann, and inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera.
Smith felt the move the most because Garner was also his position coach.
“It was tough,” Smith said. “You get used to having somebody for three years then all of a sudden you’ve got a new coach, but that’s life, man, you’ve got to deal with the changes.”
Swann took Garner leaving in stride, as well.
“It’s a business,” Swann said. “People have families to feed, families to take care of and you’ve got to put yourself in the best situation financially to take care of your responsibilities and him being a guy who played at Auburn, who’s won SEC championships at Auburn, that’s something a guy really wants to be a part of, somewhere that he played at.”
Auburn did not make Garner available for this story, but he told the school’s official website about facing his former team: “For us to get where we want to be, we have to go through Georgia. We had to go through Tennessee. None of the goals we want to attain are possible without taking this next step.”
Auburn can end Georgia’s remaining hopes of winning the SEC East and Georgia can damage the Tigers chances of winning the West.
“He certainly knows defensively what we do or how we call things and all that kind of thing so I’m sure he’ll have a lot of information to be able to talk to coach (Gus) Malzahn about, but most everything you see is on film,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “There’s probably some adjustments to certain looks that might be able to give them a little insight than a normal person just watching film.”
“Who knows what he’s over there telling them?” defensive lineman Sterling Bailey said. “We’ve got do our thing, work on our stuff.”