ATHENS, Ga. -- Saturday night could be a coming-out party for Georgia's defense when the Bulldogs open their season against Boise State in the Georgia Dome.
It's essentially a debut for starting nose Kwame Geathers, who played sparingly in eight games last season, and it is the debut for backup nose and junior-college transfer John Jenkins. Alec Ogletree will make his first start at inside linebacker after finishing last season as a starting safety, and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will play his first game for the Bulldogs since transferring from Southern Cal.
"I think it's time for our whole defense to come out," Jones said. "There are a lot of new faces on defense, and I just think it's time for us to come out and have fun and do what we've been preparing for."
The Bulldogs are ranked 19th nationally in the Associated Press poll despite finishing 6-7 a year ago. The return of sophomore Aaron Murray, the preseason All-SEC quarterback selection, is part of the reason for optimism in Mark Richt's 11th season as head coach, but so is a defense that will be in its second year under coordinator Todd Grantham.
Grantham implemented a 3-4 system filled with new terminology and new calls, and the results weren't always pretty last year. The Bulldogs were last in the SEC in third-down defense, allowing a 41.9-percent conversion rate, and their 147.2 rushing yards allowed per game were the most since 1996.
"I feel much better about our defense than a year ago," Richt said. "I knew our guys weren't sure what to do a year ago. You're putting it in from scratch and everybody's trying to figure it out. Even the assistant coaches other than Coach Grantham were learning it as we went along.
"There was absolutely nothing to draw from experience-wise, and our guys understand it now with a much greater depth. They're better technicians than they were a year ago, and our coaches have been able to spend more time emphasizing the technique."
Missed assignments were not a big deal in last season's opener, when the Bulldogs trounced Louisiana-Lafayette 55-7, but Georgia's comfort level in year two of the 3-4 will be put to an immediate test. The No. 5 Broncos averaged 521.3 yards and 45.1 points a game last season and boast senior quarterback Kellen Moore, a Heisman Trophy candidate who's 38-2 as a starter.
Boise State also has senior tailback Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,260 yards and 6.3 yards per carry last season.
"This offense is as explosive as any offense that I've seen in a long time," Grantham said. "They're a physical team, and they've got some linemen up front who do a great job of finishing blocks."
The Bulldogs struggled at the point of attack last season but have since moved DeAngelo Tyson, who was undersized at nose a year ago, out to end. The 6-foot-6, 350-pound Geathers flourished this spring, earning defensive MVP honors, while the addition of the 6-3, 351-pound Jenkins could keep the front far fresher this time around.
"I'm ready for the Show," Geathers said. "It's my second year and I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel comfortable going after them and putting pressure on them, and I think we will be able to do that up front."
Jones is Georgia's only starting linebacker who didn't make multiple starts for the Bulldogs a year ago, though Ogletree's four starts occurred at safety, and the secondary is the most experienced level of the defense. Brandon Boykin is entering his third season as a starter, while Branden Smith, Sanders Commings and Shawn Williams made multiple starts last year.
Commings has shifted to safety after making nine starts at corner last year, but he is among the many who are far more comfortable with Grantham and his fellow defenders.
"We're playing a lot faster, and we're more physical, and we're having more fun," Jones said. "Last year the guys played fast, but being a first year, you would miss a lot of stuff. This year, we've really brought it home."
Said Commings: "I think this will be one of the fastest defenses we've had at Georgia in a long time. With what Boise likes to do, I think speed will defend it."
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 ...