January 1, 2009

Defense Steps Up

ORLANDO, Fla. - It's fair to say that members of Georgia's defense came into Thursday's Capital One Bowl with a fair-sized chip on their collective shoulders.

It's been a disappointing seasons in that respect for the Bulldog defenders, who were embarrassed in the team's three losses to Alabama, Florida and Georgia Tech, the latter of which threw a gut-shot to the Bulldogs by rushing for 409 yards.

Hence the question heading into their matchup against Michigan State: With the Spartans and All-American running back Javon Ringer up next, what could Georgia possibly do to slow him down? Apparently, this time the Bulldogs had a plan.

Georgia took Ringer out of his game from the outset and the talented senior was never a real factor as he finished with 20 carries for just 47 yards.

Defensive tackle Corvey Irvin couldn't help but smile.

"We had felt like we got disrespected out in the media, I'm not saying names, but a lot of us felt we had something to prove," Irvin said. 'We felt like we hadn't been respected all year. People were saying Michigan State was just going to run it down our throats. But we came ready to play balls-to-the-wall football and that's exactly what we did."

Head coach Mark Richt wasn't surprised with the defense's success.

"I really felt like our defense was going to step up to the challenge and at least put enough hats on Javon to try and force Hoyer to win the game. I had a lot of confidence in our front four, our linebackers and the safeties coming into to fill for the run game," Richt said. "If they would have hit a lot of big plays throwing the ball, he could have softened us up inside and maybe had a little bit more space but I really didn't believe that was going to happen."

That's not all Bulldog defenders were able to achieve against the Spartans during the 24-12 win.

After failing to generate much at all resembling a pass rush, the Bulldogs sacked Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and Keshawn Martin a season-high total of six times, despite not blitzing an inordinate amount of times.

Defensive end Jarius Wynn led the way with two, followed by Dannell Ellerbe, Asher Allen and Irvin with one each. Defensive ends Justin Houston and Demarcus Dobbs combined for the other.

"I love to get pressure without blitzing. That's what has made us tick defensively for years and this year we didn't get it done like we used to, but today we did and the results were great," Richt said. "I am proud of them."

The defense also came up with a pair of huge stops in the first half; including one when the Spartans faked a punt on a fourth-and-4 and wound up two yards shy thanks to a huge knockdown by linebacker Rennie Curran.

But the game's biggest play might have come a bit later, after an interception by Matthew Stafford and subsequent personal foul set Michigan State up at the 6-yard line on first down.

The four ensuing plays netted just two yards and the Spartans were forced to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Brett Swenson.

Despite six trips into Bulldog territory the first half, Michigan State led 6-3.

"That was a great tribute to our defense," Richt said. "They stopped them at least the first three drives in a row, and even after they got that first field goal off the turnover, they stopped them right there. They kept us in it until the offense started to find its way. "

Irvin said it was the kind of defensive effort that the Bulldogs had been waiting to put together all year.

"It was rewarding for us because people were saying all year that we couldn't get pressure on the quarterback so we had something to prove in this last game," Irvin said. "We had to go out with a blast, put pressure on the quarterback, sack him and stop the run. We played with our hair on fire. We played with emotion and a great enthusiasm out there as a defense. When we play as a defense like we did (Thursday) I don't believe anyone can stop us."

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