Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has worked with Mark Richt for almost as long as he's worked with Nick Saban.
With the Bulldogs preparing for their biggest football game in nearly three decades, Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship contest against Saban's Alabama team, forgive Grantham for having the utmost reverence for the opposition. The 46-year-old Grantham, now nearing the end of his third season at Georgia, was Saban's defensive line coach at Michigan State from 1996 to '98.
"He's the guy who has really allowed me to launch my career," Grantham said. "I learned a lot from him. Systematically, we're similar in what we do. He has been one of the reasons that I've been able to have the success I've had, and he does a great job."
Grantham and Saban have worked against each other once since they were together. In 2005 Saban was in the first of two seasons as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, and Grantham was in the first of three as defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns.
Cleveland blanked Miami, 22-0, though the Dolphins did regroup to win their final six games and finish 9-7.
"Todd is an outstanding coach and had a lot of good experience in the NFL," Saban said. "I've always been really close to Todd professionally and personally, and I think he's done a phenomenal job at Georgia. There are some similarities in the system and scheme they use relative to what we use, but he has his own ideas and methods about how he does it.
"Their players play extremely well, and I think that always has something to do with the coach, the system and how it's taught. They do a really good job. If you're going to rank assistants, he is one of the two or three best I've ever had on our staff."
Alabama, which has had Kirby Smart as defensive coordinator since 2008, was the only SEC program running a 3-4 scheme until Richt hired Grantham, then the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line coach, in January 2010. Tennessee implemented the 3-4 this season but experienced disastrous results.
The Crimson Tide lead the nation in fewest points (9.25) and yards (233.67) allowed after leading the nation in every major defensive category last season.
"The standards have been set around here," Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner said, "and guys are trying to do the little things and play their role like they're used to."
Georgia cannot match Alabama statistically but may have played better down the stretch. The Bulldogs have held their last five opponents to season lows in points.
"I love this defense," Bulldogs outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "A lot of teams in the NFL play it. Alabama plays this same defense and is very dominant as well."
Grantham said he talks to Saban every now and then but that the two have not conversed this season. It's doubtful that changes this week, though the mutual respect is evident.
"At any level, you're trying to get out and do your own thing, but you also remember who taught you and where you came from," Georgia inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. "I think this one is big for us and especially for him. Coach Grantham is a really competitive guy, and he takes everything personally in everything we do.
"It's a huge matchup for him, and it will be a test of how far we've come under him."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.