The Georgia Bulldogs will be playing their 42nd game under head coach Kirby Smart when they vie with Texas in the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night.
It will be their first without defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who left the program early this month to become Colorado's head coach. Tucker headed up Georgia's secondary, a role Smart has assumed in recent days, and defensive responsibilities against the Longhorns will be shared among Smart, inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann, outside linebackers coach Dan Lanning and defensive line coach Tray Scott.
"I think people put more into that than the actual case," Lanning said in a news conference when asked about the short-staffed situation. "We make a lot of decisions during the week before you ever get to the game, so when you look at a specific situation during the game, a lot of these decisions have already been made.
"Everybody is going to be involved, just like we have all week."
Lanning was asked who would handle the defensive play calls Tuesday night and said all responsibilities were being divvied up.
The Bulldogs (11-2) entered the bowl season ranked 13th nationally in yards allowed per game (311.2) and 15th in points allowed (18.5). Georgia defensive players said during their on-campus practices that moving on from Tucker had not been a big adjustment, and they've reiterated that stance in New Orleans.
"There hasn't been that many changes," junior defensive back Tyrique McGhee said. "There is a standard here, so we don't have too much drop-off, whether it's a coach or from player to player. Going into this game, I think everything has been the same as it's been all year."
Said junior safety J.R. Reed: "The defense isn't going to change, so it's no big deal."
This isn't the first time Georgia has traveled to Louisiana for a bowl to face a team from Texas while not being at full strength on the defensive staff. In 2009, the Bulldogs whipped Texas A&M 44-20 in the Independence Bowl without coordinator Willie Martinez, linebackers coach John Jancek and defensive ends coach Jon Fabris, who had been fired by head coach Mark Richt and had declined the opportunity to remain through the bowl.
Texas A&M entered Shreveport averaging 465.3 yards a game and racked up 471 against the Bulldogs, but Georgia intercepted Jerrod Johnson twice to keep the Aggies from matching their 34 points per contest.
Rodney Garner, the Bulldogs' defensive line coach at the time, was in charge of the defense, and he was aided by graduate assistants Mitch Doolittle and Todd Hartley, who oversaw the linebackers and secondary, respectively. A pair of student assistants also helped, including former LaFayette High School quarterback and valedictorian Jonathan DeLay.
The biggest challenge this time around will be stopping a Texas passing attack that includes sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who has thrown for 3,123 yards with 25 touchdowns and only five interceptions this season, and the receiving duo of 6-4 Lil'Jordan Humphrey 6-foot-6 Collin Johnson. The pair of juniors have combined on 144 receptions for 2,054 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Longhorns (9-4).
Georgia must counter without senior cornerback Deandre Baker, a projected first-round pick who has elected to sit out the game in order to prevent risking an injury that could damage his status for April's NFL draft.
"We play a lot of different personnel groups, and we've been fortunate this season to be in situations where we've played a lot of players," Lanning said. "Tyson Campbell, Eric Stokes and Mark Webb have played significant snaps for us. You don't replace a Deandre Baker, but we've got a lot of guys who've had significant snaps, so I think the transition will be smooth."
'It's been tough'
Third-year Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney held a news conference Sunday for the first time since August, and he was asked about the challenge of working in five-star freshman quarterback Justin Fields when Jake Fromm was always playing so well.
"It's been tough, and there is no question about that," Chaney said. "You try to do the best you can by utilizing the skill sets of your existing players, and that's what we tried to do. We'll reflect more when the season is all the way over, but right now I think we did right."
Reacting to Richt
Smart had a quick response to Sunday's news that Richt was retiring after three seasons as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes. Richt guided Georgia to a 145-51 record from 2001 to 2015 and led the Bulldogs to Southeastern Conference titles in 2002 and 2005, with Smart serving as his running backs coach in 2005.
"Best of luck to Mark Richt in retirement," Smart posted on Twitter. "I'm proud to have worked with a great coach and an even better man. Go Dawgs!!"
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.