September 16, 2009

Martinez's defense faces another challenge

Linebacker Rennie Curran admits defending South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia wasn't easy.

The Bulldogs went into the contest hoping to put pressure on the nimble Gamecock QB. But when they tried, Garcia simply dumped the ball off to a tight end or running back, who found tons of wide open real estate in the middle of the Georgia zone.

Of Garcia's 31 completions, 19 were of the underneath variety, including eight to tight end Weslye Saunders who led all receivers with 96 yards.

"It all goes back to the blitz and getting pressure on the quarterback. With Garcia, we knew he liked to run around and we felt if we could get him off his game and force him to make some bad throws it would help us get some turnovers," Curran said. "But at the same time, when that happens, it opens up the short routes. We've just got to play faster, play with more fire and make things happens."

South Carolina's ability to effectively implement the short passing game resulted in the Gamecocks dominating both the time of possession (34:21 to 25:39) and get off 30 more plays (83 to 53) than the Bulldogs, who were outgained in total yardage 427-308.

"No. 1 we've got to tackle better. We didn't tackle very well the last game and it cost us," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "We've got do a better job of pressuring the quarterback, whether that's through blitz or with our front four, end rush and we've got to play consistently better in coverage."

But that's not all.

"Again, if you look at it and evaluate it, we can coach better, I can coach better, guys can execute better," he said. "There were good but there were plays when they didn't do it well. We've been inconsistent, and that needs to change."

Martinez said last week's plan from a defensive perspective was to do whatever it took to keep the Gamecocks from breaking long plays.

From that standpoint, the defense was relatively successful. Garcia's longest pass went for 20 yards and the longest run was a 23-yard scamper by Bryce Sherman.

However, Garcia's ability to break containment resulted in a number of big running plays by the quarterback, whose ability to sidestep Georgia's pressure kept several drives alive.

"To play good defense it's a combination of a couple of things and it starts with pressure, it starts with containing the quarterback, forcing him to make throw," Martinez said. "But you can always do things better. You can always make second calls. There are always so many things that go on in a game but those guys made some plays, their quarterback made some plays."

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett no doubt is paying close attention to the film from last Saturday's game.

At 6-foot-7 and 238 pounds, the Michigan transfer brings a different type of skill set into Saturday's 7:45 contest. While Garcia and Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson had the ability to stress Georgia's defense with their legs, Mallett's style is much different.

"He's not in the same mold, but he does a great job of throwing the football," Martinez said. "He's got a great arm, is a great pocket passer guy. They'll run their stuff, play-action; bootleg … Mallett can do all that."

He'll certainly be the biggest target Bulldog defenders have in a while, perhaps since facing off against former LSU quarterback Jamarcus Russell.

"He's a big target," defensive end Justin Houston said. "Hopefully, he'll be a big target to hit."

Curran said the Bulldog defense needs to be prepared to play a complete game, and that means make sure it get enough pressure on Mallett to help the downfield coverage.

"The better the pressure, more often than not your coverage is going to be better," Curran said. "We're going to have to do a better job of making him adjust his throws, because that's going to give us a better chance to get turnovers, which is something we're going to need."

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