Midway through the season, Georgia's defense was struggling, surrendering passing yards at a discouraging rate and drawing skeptical looks from fans and the media.
Brian VanGorder, who was hired this year to coordinate the Bulldogs defense, didn't panic. He didn't question his ability, which until this season had been tested only at smaller schools. And he didn't question his players, who had proven capable earlier in the year.
He just worked. He worked, because that's what he has known since he made his first honest dollar as a 9-year-old boy delivering papers outside Detroit. By age 11, he was working as a caddie.
"I think the word that describes Coach VanGorder is solid," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He's about work. He's a real strong work-ethic guy. His dad was that way, and that's the way he is."
Robert and Gloria VanGorder raised four boys - all of whom were good athletes and all of whom worked their way through childhood.
"He was a very difficult man," Brian VanGorder said of his father. "We had to be working. If you were sitting down or laying around when he got home, it would be an ugly scene."
One of VanGorder's older brothers, Ron, played football and baseball at Eastern Michigan. His younger brother Bobby played in the CFL. Brian VanGorder was an all-conference linebacker at Wayne State.
"We worked and played sports," he said. "That was our life."
Robert VanGorder was a factory worker for General Motors. He worked hard for a living and expected the same from his sons.
"He stood for all the right things - honesty, integrity and work ethic," Brian VanGorder said. "I've always tried to keep those things in line in my life."
So when the Bulldogs began to get torched by the likes of Greg Zolman, Jared Lorenzen and Rex Grossman, VanGorder didn't change his style. Georgia stuck with its plan, merely shifting its focus slightly from the run to the pass.
"I don't think he ever wavered from his plan," linebacker Will Witherspoon said. "Maybe he did get some heat, but he never changed. I think the last few games we showed that his game plan really works."
The results were seen in the last four games of the season, when Georgia gave up just 278.8 yards and 15.8 points per game.
"I think he's done outstanding," Richt said. "I got what I wanted in him. We had a chance to really hit the skids, but that didn't happen. We've improved, and that's encouraging."
Georgia finished the regular season third in the SEC in scoring defense (18.9 points per game) and sixth in total defense (361.5 yards per game).
"I feel good that there was steady improvement throughout the year," VanGorder said. "We just had a tendency in three or four games this year to give up big plays. You always felt like there was some good defense, but we had the tendency to give up the big plays."
Georgia's defense gave up 19 plays of 25 yards or more for a total of 727 yards in its first eight games.
Georgia's defensive coaches will pick a day after the season to break down a tape containing all 19 of those plays.
"We'll sit down and watch that and think about how bad we are as coaches," VanGorder said. "That's a sick day."
The Bulldogs gave up only one big play, a 37-yard touchdown run by Georgia Tech's Joe Burns, in the final three games of the season.
VanGorder has tracked it all - the good plays and the bad - on what he calls a quality control sheet. It's a computer printout that charts Georgia's success rate on particular down and distances, at certain field position, using certain defensive fronts and coverage schemes.
All in all, it's a very workmanlike approach.
"He doesn't think about much else but working and preparing," Richt said.
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