Exiting Lanning insists he's not selling Georgia short

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia defensive coordinator and new Oregon coach Dan Lanning gives instructions to his players on the sideline during the 10-3 opening win over Clemson in Charlotte.

Dan Lanning isn't the first to perform double duty in the College Football Playoff.

He's just the latest.

The new head coach of the Oregon Ducks is still the defensive coordinator of the Georgia Bulldogs, and he's hoping for two more games in the red and black, beginning with Friday night's Orange Bowl national semifinal against Michigan. Current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and former Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt successfully navigated the two fronts as former Alabama defensive coordinators, with the Crimson Tide claiming national crowns in 2015 with Smart and in 2017 with Pruitt.

"Our approach will be very similar to what it's been all season," Lanning said Monday on a Zoom call. "Nothing is really going to change from the way we operate. I'll still be making the calls, but every single one of our defensive coaches have been extremely involved throughout our preparation, and it's been a team effort all season."

Lanning was introduced at Oregon on Dec. 13, nine days after the Bulldogs had their undefeated season derailed by a 41-24 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference title game. Smart tabbed Glenn Schumann and Will Muschamp as co-defensive coordinators going forward into next year, with Schumann having been Smart's inside linebackers coach for all six seasons in Athens and Muschamp owning SEC head-coaching experience at Florida and South Carolina.

The flight to get introduced is the only trip Lanning has made to Eugene since the hiring.

"With the West Coast being three hours behind us, it's given us the opportunity to really focus on Georgia early on during the day," Lanning said, "Then, later on at night, I'm able to get a lot of things accomplished with my team there at Oregon and our staff as we're piecing that together. We've hit a couple of late nights, but there has been no lack of energy or ability to roll here.

"Our players and coaches here have done a great job of affording me this opportunity, so I'm not going to do a disservice to our guys by not finishing this the right way."

Georgia finished its 12-0 regular season with one of the most dominating defenses in college football history, as the Bulldogs allowed just 230.8 yards and 6.9 points per game. Then Alabama took significant shine off those numbers by racking up 536 yards and 7.7 yards per snap.

The Bulldogs never could get to Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young, who cemented his Heisman Trophy run by amassing 461 total yards and four total touchdowns.

"We pretty much didn't do our job on defense," senior inside linebacker Quay Walker said. "We didn't get any turnovers, and we didn't sack the quarterback. More than likely, when that happens, you're not going to win the game. At the end of the day, we've got to do what we've got to do, and that will take care of everything else."

The analytical approach didn't change for Lanning and the defensive coaches after the loss in Atlanta, and he has not witnessed any wounded pride during the on-campus workouts or the start to practices in Miami.

"Every time we take the field, whether it's in practice or on game days, our guys want to prove their worth," Lanning said. "The fact we had a hiccup doesn't affect what we want to do going forward. Luckily for us, even after that game, every single one of our goals still stands in front of us.

"There are four teams in the nation who get to go play right now at this level, and I think we recognize that opportunity in front of us and want to go take advantage of it."

Georgia will be facing a Big Ten champion that won the Joe Moore Award as the nation's top offensive line and has the balance of a power run game and explosive plays through the air. Lanning said the Wolverines are loaded at running back and at tight end, which is what he encounters at practice.

He referred to Friday night as "a physical football game, which we certainly appreciate," and if the Bulldogs come up short, they claim it won't be due to Lanning's juggling act.

"Obviously Coach Lanning hasn't gone on to his new job yet and is still with us," senior defensive back Christopher Smith said, "and he's going try to play out his role with us to the best of his ability. He's been doing a great job of that all year, and he's continuing to do so until this thing is over."

Balancing act

The Bulldogs may not get the full Miami experience in their first trip to the Orange Bowl since the 1959 season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but there seems to be some balance of work and fun.

"We had practice. We ate on a boat, and we came back and had some free time," junior inside linebacker Nakobi Dean said of the first few hours at their new location. "We've got masks on, and we're trying to stay safe from this new variant out here. For the most part, we're just staying around each other in the player lounge and just chilling in our free time."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.