ATHENS, Ga. -- Saturday won't mark the first time Georgia junior outside linebacker Justin Houston gets past an offensive tackle and sets his sights on a quarterback.
It will, however, be the first time he sees a quarterback so imposing.
The 6-foot-3, 258-pound Houston leads the Southeastern Conference with nine sacks entering this week's game at Auburn. The 10-0 and No. 2 Tigers are led by quarterback Cam Newton, who tops the league in rushing yards and passing efficiency as a 6-6, 250-pounder.
"It's going to be a great challenge, and I'm ready to take it on," Houston said. "He's no lightweight. You've actually got to hit this man."
Houston also has 44 tackles and 40 quarterback pressures for the 5-5 Bulldogs, who have lofty defensive numbers in lopsided victories but struggled in tight defeats. Georgia allowed 450 yards Oct. 30 in its 34-31 overtime loss to Florida and gave up 409 yards Oct. 2 in its 29-27 loss at Colorado, a team that hasn't won since.
The Tigers are averaging 509.4 yards and 42.2 points per game, so Georgia first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham believes this is his toughest challenge yet.
"They are No. 1 in the SEC in just about every category," Grantham said. "Even though in passing yards they're not, they are No. 1 in passing yards per attempt, so they're very efficient in what they do."
Grantham spent the past 11 years as an NFL assistant and said Newton is a mixture of several quarterbacks at the highest level. He never coached against Vince Young, who Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt compared him to after last Saturday's 55-7 trouncing of Idaho State, but Grantham said Newton is a bigger Michael Vick in terms of athletic ability.
Newton also reminds Grantham of Ben Roethlisberger.
"Some of Big Ben's best plays came when guys were free on the blitz, and he was able to shuck them and throw it down the field," Grantham said. "There is some truth to that with this guy, too."
Houston believes former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who played for the Gators at 6-3 and 240, is the closest comparison but said Newton is more athletic. That may not be a link Bulldogs fans want to hear, because Tebow racked up 12 touchdowns (seven rushing and five passing) in his last three games against Georgia.
Newton and Houston soon will face decisions regarding whether or not to return for their senior seasons. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper considers Newton the No. 3 junior quarterback prospect behind Andrew Luck of Stanford and Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, and he tabs Houston as the No. 1 outside linebacker prospect in the 2011 draft.
If Houston hasn't punched his ticket to the pros yet, a couple of Newton takedowns on national television wouldn't hurt.
"That would be really exciting," Georgia linebacker and leading tackler Akeem Dent said. "It's a really big game for Houston, and I know personally that it's a big game for him. He's been watching extra film in preparation for these guys, and he's going to be ready to go."
Said Houston: "People have criticized this defense all season, but we've got another opportunity to show what we're made of. Only time will tell."
Odds and ends
Richt on the Newton controversy: "There is nothing that's been proven that's been done that's inappropriate in any way. It's just amazing the amount of noise there is around it." ... Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley was named Wednesday as a finalist for the Lombardi Award. ... Richt said receivers Kris Durham (lung) and Logan Gray (jaw) will play Saturday, but he wasn't as certain about backup nose Kwame Geathers (ankle). ... With CBS expected to select the Arkansas-LSU game as its Nov. 27 telecast, Georgia could have to host Georgia Tech at night for the first time in series history.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...