Fabris Tries to Get DEs going

ATHENS – It's a fine line, Georgia assistant coach Jon Fabris said, between having rose petals thrown at your feet and rocks thrown at your head. At least, that's been the case for Georgia's defensive ends so far this season.

Fabris doesn't lack eloquence when talking football, but what he has missed is a consistent pass rush for the past three games. While his defensive ends have come awfully close to landing a big hit on opposing quarterbacks, they haven't been able to cross that all-important chasm between a sack and a near miss.

"It's a fine line between whether you made that sack and whether you didn't quite get there, and nobody gives you anything for almost getting there," Fabris said.

Actually, what Georgia's pass rush has gotten is a heaping helping of criticism.

Head coach Mark Richt lamented the defense's inability to make Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour uncomfortable in Georgia's win two weeks ago. South Carolina's inconsistent passing attack looked particularly sharp against the toothless Bulldogs' pass rush last week.

Georgia has just six sacks through three games despite its opponents employing a pass-heavy attack, and only 1.5 of those takedowns have come from the defensive ends.

"I think everybody's getting frustrated," defensive end Jeremy Lomax said. "When you're not producing, people have things to say. When that happens, everybody gets a little frustrated."

That frustration could reach a tipping point Saturday.

While Georgia has managed a 3-0 record despite its failure to land enough hits on the other team's quarterback, its biggest test will come this week against Arizona State's Rudy Carptenter.

In addition to being one of the country's best passers and a veteran leader of the Sun Devils' offense, Carpenter has a pocket presence that makes taking him down in the backfield an even greater challenge for Georgia's defensive ends.

"He's tough to bring down, and he has a good feel for the pocket," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "I counted last game eight or nine times he was sacked, and they couldn't bring him down."

The obvious answer according to some Bulldogs defenders is to bring a bit more heat.

Georgia had its greatest success disrupting South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley when it brought a blitz, and linebackers Rennie Curran and Darryl Gamble each registered sacks.

"They have a great quarterback, so I feel like we're going to have to go in and apply a lot more pressure," linebacker Akeem Dent said. "The past couple weeks, we've been playing more coverage, but I feel like we're going to have to put a lot more pressure on."

That, however, creates another problem against Arizona State's veteran quarterback.

Carpenter is adept at quickly reading the blitz and getting the ball off before the big hit comes. His completion percentage actually gets better when the opposition blitzes, Richt said.

If Carpenter is able to avoid the pass rush, the pressure then falls on the Bulldogs' defensive backs, which have had their share of problems, too, when the line has failed to bring down the quarterback in a timely fashion.

"The more people you keep in coverage, the more you get them in throwing lanes, make more plays, batting balls and getting interceptions," Lomax said. "So we need to bring a four-man blitz. We need to get there, no ifs, ands or buts. If we don't, (the Sun Devils) are going to kill us."

The four-man rush hasn't worked so far, however, and the reasons are numerous.

In fall camp, nearly all of the defensive linemen sported a green non-contact jersey at some point. Lomax, Demarcus Dobbs, Justin Houston and Rod Battle all fought through injuries, and Battle remains sidelined this week.

"When people are injured, not only can you not practice, but you can't improve if you're not practicing, and your conditioning suffers," Fabris said. "Sometimes other players are taking too many reps, and now they get injured or fatigued, and it's a snowball effect."

Lomax admits the lack of preseason practice put the defensive ends behind in their preparation, but the problems go deeper than that.

A year ago, Georgia's pass rush struggled early, too, but improved significantly as the season progressed. The difference then, Lomax said, was mental discipline, and that's what Georgia is missing so far this season.

"The one thing I can point to is the mind-set," Lomax said. "It's not in our minds to be dominant pass rushers, so you can't be a dominant pass rusher. If you want to be something, you've got to put it in your mind, and that's what we need to do this week."

The mental shortcomings are a logical product of the line's inexperience. Only Battle had starting experience prior to this season. Last year's sack leader, Marcus Howard, is now playing in the NFL, while sophomore defensive end Michael Lemon was dismissed from the team following an off-field incident over the summer.

Dobbs, Houston, Wynn and Lomax have been left to pick up the slack, but all are learning on the fly.

"Sometimes you see the light bulb come on, and then it goes out," Fabris said. "Then it stays on a little bit longer, and you get excited because they're starting to get the idea. Every time you have a little success, it's a confidence builder."

Georgia needs more than just confidence builders Saturday. It needs success. Almost getting to the quarterback won't be enough against the Sun Devils' explosive offense, and Lomax said the group has had its fill of coming up just short.

"We've messed up three games," he said, "and we don't want to mess up no more."


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