September 27, 2009

Defense able to give offense a hand

Nobody has been more frustrated with Georgia's recent defensive effort than linebacker Rennie Curran.

After giving up 102 points in the Bulldogs' first three games, Curran said after last week's 52-41 win at Arkansas that the time for excuses was over. It was time for the Bulldogs to start playing defense the way they're capable.

For the most part, the Bulldogs' effort in Saturday's 20-17 win over Arizona State was a step in the right direction.

"We talked about how we needed to keep fighting," Curran said. "Nobody ever started pointing fingers, and I think (Saturday) we showed that we've got a resilient group. We're going to keep fighting and I think you saw that tonight."

From a statistical standpoint, Saturday's effort was easily Georgia's best defensive outing this year.

The Bulldogs held the Sun Devils to 204 total yards, and although the defense forced just one turnover (an interception by Bacarri Rambo), it was responsible for nine plays behind the line of scrimmage, including a 10-yard loss on a sack by defensive end Justin Houston.

"That was big, but I think I can do better," said Houston, who also broke up a pass. "I was able to stick with my assignments tonight, and when I did good things happened."

Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez was happy that his charges were able to finish the game strong.

The Sun Devils had four possessions in the fourth quarter and did not pick up a single first down, as Georgia held ASU to negative 11 yards.

Defensive tackle Geno Atkins gets credit for the Bulldogs' first fourth-quarter stand when he knocked down running back Dimitri Nance four yards behind the line of scrimmage before a similar play by Houston helped stymie ASU's second fourth-quarter possession.

With 6:40 left in the game, the Sun Devils get a 19-yard punt return by Kyle Williams to the Georgia 49 but the next three plays netted just four yards before ASU was forced to punt again.

But Georgia's defense had to bow its collective one final time.

After Jarrell Holman's second interception set ASU up at the 20 with 5:30 to play, Nance was knocked for a 1-yard loss followed by a pair of incomplete passes by quarterback Danny Sullivan brought up fourth down.

That's when A.J. Green saved the day when he blocked Bobby Wenzig's 37-yard field goal attempt enabling the Bulldogs to drive 60 yards before Blair Walsh won the game with his 37-yard field goal.

"We talk about starting fast and finishing strong and that's what we were able to do tonight," Martinez said. "I don't know if we've started fast the last two games but we did a good job today and that was a big key. We always want to win the fourth quarter and today we were able to do that."

Technically, Georgia's defense has done well in the fourth quarter all year.

Of the 119 points surrendered by the Bulldogs, only 19 points have come in the fourth quarter, and seven of those weren't the fault of the defense at all when South Carolina's Eric Norwood returned an interception 35 yards early in the fourth quarter two weeks ago.

"That was huge," Martinez said of Georgia's fourth-quarter exploits against the Sun Devils. "The last couple of weeks now we've done well in the fourth quarter. It's always good to see those three and outs when the game's getting late. Those guys have been able to overcome a lot of bad stuff and hang in there. They don't get down on themselves and lately they've found a way to win."

Defensive tackle Jeff Owens could not agree more.

"That's what it's all about," he said. "We're actually making plays when we need to and that leaves us to fight another day. The only way we're going to be success is if we pull together as a team and that's what we're trying to do."

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