Dawgs' D struggling down stretch

ATHENS — Rafael Little is on a roll. Kentucky's sophomore tailback enters today's game against No. 14 Georgia having averaged 145.3 rushing yards in his last three games and leading the nation in all-purpose yards with 193.9 per game. It seems like it'd be a great time for Little to be facing the Bulldogs.

Not so, says Georgia's Ray Gant.

"I wouldn't say it's a good time at all for anybody to be going up against Georgia," the junior defensive tackle said.

The Bulldogs (7-2, 5-2 SEC), who play Kentucky today at 12:30 in a game that will be preceded by Senior Day ceremonies, are a little miffed these days. A month ago, Georgia was fifth in the country in scoring defense and 11th in total defense. In just three games, it has dropped to 10th in scoring and 21st in total defense. The team is 1-2 in that span.

"We've got a lot to prove," linebacker Jarvis Jackson said. "It's not been a great month for Georgia defense. In past years, Georgia has been known for its defense, and we've been messing up a couple games. We've just got to pull it together."

Auburn rolled up 506 yards of total offense, the most against Georgia since 2001 and the second-most by an opponent in the Richt era.

"I don't think we've lost our swagger," Gant said. "It's still inside us somewhere. We just have to find it again. We need to do something. We need to have a huge game against Kentucky, just to get our spirits up."

The main culprits for the Bulldogs have been their rush defense and big plays by opposing offenses.

Georgia gave up 91.2 yards per game in its first six games of the year. In the last three, it has surrendered 198.7 per game. The Bulldogs have dropped 27 places nationally in rush defense since facing Arkansas on Oct. 22.

"That's something this defense takes pride in is being able to stop the run," safety Tra Battle said, "and being gashed for (more than) 150 yards a game is not stopping the run."

Three straight opposing players — Arkansas' Darren McFadden, Florida's DeShawn Wynn and Auburn's Kenny Irons — have rushed for more than 100 yards. That equals the number of players who accomplished that in the previous 20 games.

"We've had some injuries," said coach Mark Richt, referring to the time missed by defensive tackles Gerald Anderson and Kedric Golston and linebackers Brandon Miller and Tony Taylor, "and we've kind of rolled up against the best backs in succession."

What has defensive coordinator Willie Martinez more upset than the success teams have had on the ground is the number of big plays the Bulldogs gave up against Auburn. Last Saturday, 242 of the Tigers' yards came on six plays.

"You can't do that," Martinez said. "We haven't done that all year. It's a great momentum changer for them, and it bursts your bubble on the other side."

Auburn had three runs of 30 yards and passes for 35, 57 and 62 yards. Georgia surrendered seven plays of 30 or more yards in the first eight games combined. Missed tackles are partly to blame for the big plays, but the biggest problem is missed assignments, Martinez said.

"I think a good football team is going to make you pay," he said. "We make mistakes. That's part of it. You make a mistake against other teams, the speed will just cover it. You make a mistake against a team where the speed is even and that's an extra step."

Richt hasn't lost confidence in his defense after the Auburn debacle, he said.

"They've got a lot of pride, and they don't want that ever to happen again," he said. "They do a great job."

The Bulldogs are still ranked sixth in the SEC in total defense and fourth in scoring defense, but that's not nearly good enough for them.

"We can sit here and make excuses about anything, (missed assignments) and people being out and stuff like that, but the bottom line is we just have to get it done,"Jackson said. "It really doesn't matter who's in there, who's starting. We've got to play Georgia defense, and that's run and get to the ball and hit and make plays."

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