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defense emerging from offense's shadow..


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by marc weiszer | marc.weiszer@onlineathens.com | story updated at 11:16 pm on monday, november 19, 2007 it was easy for georgia's defense to get overshadowed when the bulldogs were winning with dynamic freshman tailback knowshon moreno chewing up yards and a big-play offense putting up 40 points three straight games.

the bulldogs' five game winning streak and climb to seventh in the bcs standings have also been fueled by its defense playing faster, creating more turnovers and putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

"it's good to see the youth blend in with the older guys now," defensive coordinator willie martinez said.

defensive tackle geno atkins has made 21 of his 33 tackles and 21/2 of his 31/2 sacks in the past five games. the sophomore was named sec defensive lineman of the week on monday. linebacker rennie curran has made 29 of his 40 tackles in the past four games. he is the sec freshman of the week after getting 13 tackles in saturday's 24-13 win over kentucky.

"this guy is a key," martinez said pointing toward curran sitting nearby after the game saturday. "he's learned the defense more and we can move (dannell) ellerbe around, which we want. he's an explosive player and he's allowed us to do that. he's made a ton of plays for us."

georgia limited kentucky to 29 yards on 29 carries, holding the wildcats to the lowest rushing output in martinez's three seasons as defensive coordinator and the lowest since georgia tech was held to just 24 rushing yards in 2004. georgia travels to face georgia tech at 3:30 p.m. saturday.

"the big thing we talked about going into the game is we didn't want them to run the football on us like they ran it on us last year," martinez said of kentucky.

"i know it sounds crazy but if we could get them to throw the ball, it allowed us to do some other things in coverages whether you're playing man, a little zone, a little pressure."

it might sound loopy because kentucky sports the sec's top passing offense, averaging 268.6 yards per game.

the wildcats built a 10-0 first quarter lead connecting on a 36-yard touchdown pass to keenan burton on a play in which coach mark richt said quarterback andré woodson got too much time in the pocket.

"in the second half they basically said `no way. it's not going to happen today,'" richt said of his defense.

georgia held kentucky to season lows with 13 points and 297 total yards.

and there was no repeat of last year when the wildcats drove 69 yards for the game-winning score.

"that was on everybody's mind," cornerback asher allen said.

this time around leading 21-13 in the fourth quarter, georgia forced a three-and-out. two other drives when it was a one-possession game were snuffed out by marcus howard sacks.

"that's how the defense feels. we want to be on the field," safety kelin johnson said. "we want to clinch the game."

the linebacker trio of ellerbe, curran and akeem dent accounted for 22 tackles.

"they have very good speed," kentucky coach rich brooks said. "some of our outside plays they ran us down inside-out in the running game. they gave us some problems with their pressure package as well. a few of them were delayed blitzes where they'd let the line block and then one of the linebackers would come through an open gap after the line had basically declared the protection and they brought somebody up in andre's face and forced him to throw it just a little before he wanted to."

woodson was sacked five times and was knocked to the ground at least another half dozen times, brooks said.

georgia has 20 sacks and 13 turnovers in the past five games after accounting for nine sacks and four turnovers in the first six.

"we've played with a lot of depth," richt said. "our d-ends rotate a lot. our interior d-line rotate a lot. our linebackers have rotated a lot. even our secondary has rotated even more than i can ever remember. because we've kept people fresh and kept rolling them in there, we've gotten better as the season's gone on."

said quarterback matthew stafford: "i'm cheering them on trying to get them going. they're ball-hawks now, trying to just get turnovers all the time. play aggressive, getting sacks. it's fun to watch."

published in the athens banner-herald on 112007

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