Georgia's Defense Hits and Hits Hard

ATHENS - The popular term for it is "swagger." David Pollack says it's "cautious fanaticism." Odell Thurman says you have to "play like maniacs, but controlled maniacs." Whatever you want to call it, the No. 4 Bulldogs' defensive players won't you to know they're coming after you.

"If you turn on the film and see eight or nine guys running to the ball, trying to take your head off, it has to affect you," David Pollack said.

Georgia's defense has played exceptionally well all season, and they're starting to act like it. Whether it's Pollack jumping up and down on a penalty flag that negated a Volunteer touchdown or Derrick White going after fullback Troy Fleming and getting thrown out of the game, the Bulldogs have shown plenty of spirit on defense.

"They are playing hard, they are playing very confident," Coach Mark Richt said. "If the word is swagger, then they've got some swagger."

They have reason to strut. After dismantling Tennessee, in a game in which coordinator Brian VanGorder said he was "very confident" his group could stop the Volunteers' often-feared running game, the Bulldogs moved to No. 1 in the nation in total defense (255.2 yards per game).

"We like to consider ourselves one of the top defenses in the nation," safety Thomas Davis said. "To do that, you have to have a little bit of a swagger."

The swagger comes with a price, though. Georgia's defense was flagged for three personal fouls and two roughing-the-passer penalties against Tennessee. VanGorder said he wouldn't comment on the late hit penalties but said he was "absolutely" fine with the way his team played after reviewing the game film.

In 1996, Richt's former boss, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, made national headlines following a particularly rough win over Florida when he said he didn't mind if his players played "until the echo of the whistle." Richt wouldn't go that far Tuesday but said he didn't mind his team's aggresiveness.

"I don't like penalties, and I appreciate the safety of the game, but I also know football is a contact sport, and the best way to play, especially defense, is to hit and hit hard," he said.

Richt said there have been times he thinks some of his players have gone too far, but he's hesitant to discourage it too much for fear of taking the edge off his defense.

"It's always a hard balance," he said.

Georgia's players don't apologize for the way they play.

"If he ain't down, you try to hurt him," Odell Thurman said. Thurman is the cover feature on November's Dawgpost Magazine.

Pollack said, "You have to what boundaries not to overstep, but when the whistle hasn't blown, you better be blowing people up."

Georgia's defensive attitude comes directly from VanGorder, the players said.

"We see how tough he likes the game to be played," Davis said.

VanGorder recognizes players for big hits, which he calls "flesh bombs," during a video session every Monday. And Georgia's defenders are given a loaf on their game grade sheet if they arrive at the ball before the whistle has blown and don't hit the ballcarrier, Thurman said.

"Definitely, it's a swagger," linebacker Arnold Harrison said. "To play good defense, you have to go out there with a mean attitude."

VanGorder's main concern is that his unit keep that attitude, he said.

"I think we're getting a little bit of an edge, but there are a lot of teams that are in and out in terms of that swagger," he said. "What makes a great defense is to keep that swagger."

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