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gamble pays off for dogs

defensive stop at vanderbilt turns around georgia defense

by carter strickland

the atlanta journal-constitution

published on: 11/16/07 athens unlikely heroes drop in and out during any season of football.

they make a play here or there to change the game. then, just as quickly, they are forgotten.

nobody around georgia has forgotten darryl gamble yet.

"that play he made was huge," defensive end jeremy lomax said.

"big," cornerback asher allen said. "really big."

it was the play that turned around georgia's season and turned winning the sec east title back into a possibility.

"it turned a lot of things around," safety kelin johnson said.

the situation was this: vanderbilt was driving to seal a win. the clock was ticking down. gamble, a little-used backup linebacker, was in the game. a speed sweep was called for at the georgia 12. vandy's cassen jackson-garrison turned to the 10. reshad jones made a hit. gamble punched the ball out. dannell ellerbe recovered. season saved.

"i knew it was a big play," gamble said. "but i didn't really think of it right then as a turnaround to our team."

it was. not only did georgia win the game, it also won the next three games.

"that play is etched in my mind for a long time," georgia coach mark richt said. "it was huge. it was the catalyst for everything. without that, we wouldn't be having as much fun as everybody says we're having."

a lot of that fun has been coming on the defensive side of the ball. before that fumble and recovery, georgia had taken the ball away from its opponents five times. since gamble's big play, the bulldogs' defense has created 10 turnovers. the offense has turned those into 48 points.

"i guess that was the [building block] for our defense waking up and our offense waking up to and scoring all these points," johnson said.

the point that is the defense woke up and realized what it had been missing speed, determination and opportunity.

"we just realized we weren't playing fast enough for turnovers to happen," allen said. "we've got to be hungry for the ball. you want the ball every time the ball is in the air. we've really got to go after the ball when the ball is in the air."

it's all about attitude. take the first pass from auburn's brandon cox last week. johnson intercepted it instead of just knocking it down. richt called that "having the confidence to make the play."

that confidence has been contagious on the defensive side of the ball.

"there has to be that attitude," johnson said. "you have to be a ball hawk on defense. that is one thing that we focus on week in and week out."

the two primary ball hawks during this stretch have been allen and johnson. allen has recovered two fumbles and made an interception. johnson has two interceptions.

"you've got to be selfish,'" johnson said. "you've got to want to be there. there were a couple of times in the game last week when we [the defense] wanted to be on the field. we didn't want our offense to be on the field. we wanted to be the representation of the georgia team. we just want to end this. we want to make sure their offense can't score and get more turnovers. you want to be out there winning the game."

gamble hasn't been out there much. he has played every game, but primarily on special teams. that doesn't mean anyone has forgotten what the redshirt freshman did against vanderbilt.

"you hear it in practice," gamble said. "somebody on defense will say, 'let's make a play like gamble did.'"

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