Dawgs Defense in a Slump?

ORLANDO, Fla. -- At the level Georgia's defense has played this year, slumps are measured by the slightest deviation. The last month, in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's reckoning, more than qualifies.

"We're going to have to have a different enthusiasm than we've had the last three or four weeks," Brian VanGorder said. "Right now, we're not the same defense we were early in the year."

"We haven't been as intense in the last couple games," senior cornerback Bruce Thornton conceded.

Georgia still ranks second in the country in scoring defense and fourth in total defense, but, in the last two games, the Bulldogs have given up 845 yards. In the first 11 games of the season, Georgia gave up more than 300 only twice.

Then came a 401-yard output by Georgia Tech that was overshadowed by a 34-17 Bulldog win. Next was the ego-battering 34-13 loss to LSU, in which the Tigers gained 444 yards and scored the most points ever against one of VanGorder's Georgia defenses.

"We got beat pretty bad," VanGorder said. "We have to see where our psyche is."

In the first 12 games of the season, Georgia's defense had a swagger equal to its impressive statistics. It's yet to be seen if that attitude has survived the LSU game.

"When things are going good, it's easy to keep your enthusiasm," VanGorder said. "Now that things are tough, we have to see how some of these young guys will respond."

The No. 11 Bulldogs (10-3) play No. 12 Purdue (9-3) here at 1 p.m. on Thursday in the Capital One Bowl. Thornton said the loss to the Tigers hasn't hurt Georgia's confidence but guessed it has boosted Purdue's.

"LSU is probably one of the most balanced teams in the country. We lost to a good opponent," he said. Still, "Purdue is probably looking at that film thinking they can do the same things."

The Boilermakers average 156.4 rushing yards, sixth in the Big Ten, and 223.5 passing yards, fourth in the Big Ten, per game. LSU rushed for 293 yards, passed for 151 and averaged 6.5 yards per play against Georgia. In the first 11 games of the season, the Bulldogs gave up just 4.1 yards per play.

"You're going to have games where you don't play as well as you want," defensive end David Pollack said. "You can't dwell on it or it might sneak up and bite you again."

Thornton said the lack of contact in practice has hurt the Bulldog defense. In response to the rash of injuries Georgia suffered throughout the season, its coaches cut out full contact during the first week of November. The team's tackling, which was at its worst against LSU, suffered, Thornton said, but Pollack attributed the letdown to mental, not physical, shortcomings.

"You've been doing it so long you get in a rut sometimes," he said. "We have to get our focus back."

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