Perhaps no place is more evident of that than third-down defense, where Georgia has gone from worst to almost first in the Southeastern Conference.
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham worked this off-season on turning that around after the Bulldogs ranked 79th in the nation last year on third downs, when opponents converted 41.9 percent of the time.
Georgia now stands fifth in the country. Opponents are getting past the first down marker at just a 25 percent clip.
“Coach Grantham preached so much about third downs until we just hated it and tried to get better at it,” safety Bacarri Rambo said. “That’s how you become the best defense when you get off the field and put the offense back on the field.”
Even in Georgia’s losses, the Bulldogs’ third-down defense wasn’t the killer.
Boise State converted on 4 of 12 and South Carolina on 4 of 14. In wins the past two weeks, Coastal Carolina went 3 of 16 and Ole Miss was 3 of 14.
“We’re trying to make it difficult for them to know what we’re in and trying to disguise,” Grantham said, “and we’re trying to attack them, whether it be with the rush or the pressure, and attack what they’re doing,” Grantham said.
“I really don’t want to give too much (away). We’ve studied it and we’ve prepared for it.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said third down was practiced more this preseason.
Richt discussed with Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith this spring his ideas on the right amount to practice third-and-short, third-and-medium and third-and-long.
“I found out we were probably a little bit short on the time spent in some third down situations and some red zone situations,” Richt said. “We ramped that up a little bit more, and I just think we’re better at playing it, too.”
Georgia, which trails only Florida in the SEC in third-down defense, was particularly vulnerable last season on third-and-long.
“Our third-and-medium defense was actually good, but our third-and-long was not as good and our short yardage was not as good,” said Grantham, whose defense ranks 13th in the nation in yards allowed at 270 per game. “The physicalness of our front has allowed us to play the short yardage plays and the communication and just repetition and working has helped us on the longer yardage situations.”
Mississippi State’s offense enters Saturday’s game in Sanford Stadium ranked ninth in the SEC in third down conversions at 38.7 percent.
It went 7 of 13 last season in a 24-12 win over Georgia in Starkville.
Third down conversions “is one of the biggest statistics that we monitor,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.