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UGA at Media Day in LA: Bulldogs Focused on Preparation and Fixing Defensive Mistakes

Graham Coffey

UGA took the stage at the CFP National Championship’s Media Day this morning. The Dawgs looked like all of the fanfare and bright lights is just part of the normal routine. This is their second straight national title trip and fourth College Football Playoff game in a year. 

So what’s different? UGA brings a very different roster to the championship game this time around. UGA running backs coach Dell McGee said that losing so much talent to last year’s NFL Draft helped to motivate this group of Bulldogs. 

“I just think this team is of a different mindset. They want to do something different this year. Right now, they’ve put themselves in position to be different than even last year’s team. There was a lot of talk and outside noise about how many NFL Draft picks we had and I think our guys, our players, took it upon themselves to make it a benefit and you can kind of see the growth and maturity of our entire team as the season progressed. I can’t say enough about that leadership and maturation process to be in this position.” 

When asked the same question Edge Chaz Chambliss said, “The expectations aren’t any different, but obviously it’s different because we had just gotten beaten by the same team before last year.” 

Instead of Nick Saban’s Alabama, the Bulldogs are facing the Big 12’s TCU. The Frogs odds of winning a national title were set at just 200-1 prior to the season. 

UGA might be the more established program this time around, but you wouldn’t know it talking to the Georgia coaching staff. UGA co-defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann seemed pleased with how this team has prepared itself so far. 

“It’s a national championship game. It’s different every time you get to play in a game that has more stakes, and every game has stakes, but our guys do a great job of approaching the prep the right way. We’re gonna go out there today, we’re gonna follow our blueprint for what we do two days before the game… There’s a reason we prep the way that we do. Obviously we’re out here in California with y’all and the stakes are as high as they get in college football... From that standpoint, it is different. Everybody knows that. We need to play our best game. But the prep is what got you here so we can’t abandon the habits that have helped us be successful.” 

One of the habits that has helped Schumann and his defense be successful this year is a tireless work ethic and a high football IQ. He’s been so focused on this game that at one point he paused and began to question himself when answering the question above. “It is two days, right? I’m just making sure. When you end up playing a game on Monday… It was great for the semifinal because it was, ‘oh, the game is on Saturday.’ The day of the week tells me exactly where we are.” 

It is clear that Schumann’s head is full with thoughts after spending the last few days examining how the UGA defense gave up 40 points to Ohio State and dissecting the TCU offense his team will face on Monday evening. 

A hot topic of media day was TCU QB Max Duggan’s legs. CJ Stroud busted the Georgia defense for some big scrambles in Atlanta. Was that unexpected?

“One thing we do with every quarterback is watch their scramble drill… He had shown an ability to use his legs. Obviously he did an outstanding job that day. Affected the game in a major way with his ability to run and extend plays. We were aware of the fact he could do that. We still at the end of the day knew we had to go effect the quarterback and make sure we did everything we possibly could in our rush and in our pressures and disguises to try and affect him the best we could… Credit to him and the job he did, but he had shown that in big moments that he would do it and I think he obviously knew that he had to. We knew that he had to. We had to also make sure that you make him play quarterback in the way that he doesn’t want to play quarterback. Credit to him that he is plenty capable of doing it.” 

Will Georgia’s game plan change against TCU’s Max Duggan? The QB of the Horned Frogs has made big plays with his legs throughout the season. Schumann’s co-DC Will Muschamp spoke about the problems he can create.

“We’ve got to be able to account for his legs. What’s very difficult to defend is the off rhythm plays… You’ve got designed running game which he obviously does extremely well, and then you have the off rhythm plays in which he creates a lot of issues… Absolutely we’ve got to be dialed in as far as rushing the passer, keeping our rush lanes, and staying disciplined in our rush lanes to be able to limit him.” 

The Buckeyes never busted the Bulldogs for a long touchdown, but Schumann wants to see more from his defense. 

“There were still too many explosives by our definition… For about every ten yards of explosive plays that you give up it’s worth about a point. You give up 200 yards of explosives, you probably gave up about 20 points. You give up 300 yards of explosives, you probably gave up 30… It’s not an exact correlation. Obviously there’s outliers there but I think that limiting explosive plays is really important. They might not have hit the home run 70 yarder, but there were too many plays in that game… We define explosives as over 12 yards running or over 15 yards passing and there were too many of those. Some by credit to them and some by things we need to do better. 

So how does Georgia fix it?

“First thing we do… Was it schematic? Was it coaching based? It could be hey, the scheme was good but it was called at the wrong time. Was it matchup based where we lost a matchup, and if we lost a matchup was it correctable by better technique? Or sometimes you just give them credit on that play or it could be execution based… Then you go and look, and you write up the plays we gave up that we would deem explosives for us… There was a variety. We need to affect the quarterback better. There’s times where we need to get lined up better and we can help that as coaches, giving them the call sooner at times. Then we can also improve at times where a call came in fine and we need to improve our communication. I think it’s a whole big picture more than it’s one thing. We were really good on third-and-long. We were 7 for 8 on third-and-seven plus… Everytime we got them into a hard down and distance we got off the field, and we sacked the quarterback, and we forced bad throws. So we need to do a better job on first and second down defense because when we get to third we did a really good job in that regard.” 

Schumann believes that UGA will see similar challenges against TCU’s offensive personnel as the one they just saw against Ohio State. “We thought they’d present a challenge and they did, and these guys we’re playing are really good… These guys are really good too… You look at NFL football, when you have good quarterbacks and wideouts, you better find ways to make the quarterback play poorly. So, the number one thing, you play another great quarterback in this game. Good wideouts. Gotta make the quarterback play poorly or at least make him play on our terms… We’ve gotta do that to be successful.” 

TCU star WR Quentin Johnson is among the things Schumann is locked in on as this game approaches. “Size and speed. He’s special with these characteristics… He’s not just a vertical threat, makes a lot of people miss. I believe he has 18 forced first missed tackles… When you play in championship games there’s one-on-one’s all over the field. I think our guys are ready to embrace the challenge.”

As for Georgia’s offense, much was made of TCU’s unique 3-3-5 defense. UGA OC Todd Monken shared how challenging it can be to run against. “One coach told me it’s like a vacuum. You think it’s there and they just swarm on you.”

Monken seems focused on ensuring UGA stays focused on its regular offensive goals despite facing the 3-3-5. “One, you can never control the game if you can’t run the football. I think TCU would believe that as well. And then, how can you be explosive? This isn’t any different against the 3-3-5 or against what we do. It’s exactly what Garrett’s (TCU OC Garrett Riley) going to try and do and we’re going to do. Be able to run the ball, be able to create explosive plays… Cause it’s hard to score if you’re not explosive.”

Veteran QB Stetson Bennett will be a big part of how Georgia tries to achieve that. “He’s played exceptionally well and he’s got a great feel for what we want to do.. He’s got a lot better. We’ve got a lot better at how we prepare and how we prepare him.” 

Monken was adamant in his belief in Bennett and spoke about how his QB “showed who he was'” after a turnover in last year’s national championship lead to UGA falling behind in the second half. He also admitted that he and the rest of UGA’s staff has coached Bennett hard for some of the mistakes he made against Ohio State. “Stetson’s been around us to know that we can say things and he’s going to know we have his back.” 

One of the ways UGA will combat that 3-3-5 is with the best group of tight ends in the country. Georgia uses more two TE sets than almost anyone in college football. TE Coach Todd Hartley was asked about his room’s importance to Georgia’s attack. 

“It’s our job at Georgia to score points and win games. If that involves two TE’s then so be it. If that involves no TE’s then so be it… It makes you feel good when your guys are utilized and that’s been the case the last couple of years… They are extremely talented, but they play at an exceptionally high level and that’s a credit to Monk for putting them in a system that showcases their skillset.” 

A big question as this matchup looms is the health of Darnell Washington. It should be noted that he took questions from reporters without a boot and didn’t look to be limping as he towered over the proceedings. True freshman Oscar Delp came in for Washington and made a block that helped spring a Kendall Milton TD run. “He didn’t back down and that’s the biggest thing you can say. The moment wasn’t too big for him and he showed a lot of maturity in that situation and that’s a credit to his preparation. As a young kid sitting behind Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers you may think you may never see the field, but you have to prepare like it could be you at any second… The fact that he was ready showed that he prepared the right way.”

From its true freshmen to its veteran coaching staff, Georgia looks prepared for Monday night’s showdown with TCU. There will be more prep between now and then because that is how the Bulldogs operate. We will find out in 48 hours if that culture of thoroughness and readiness is enough to win them back-to-back national titles.

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