Georgia's defense spent the first seven games of its season building a reputation. The results were a 6-1 record and numbers that showed Georgia was one of the toughest defenses to run against in the country.
Three weeks later, the Bulldogs' defense has been gashed repeatedly, and the players are taking it personally.
“We feel like our reputation has been hurt,” linebacker Rennie Curran said. “We've been in situations where it's made us give up some points, but they shouldn't determine our outcome.”
The outcome Saturday wasn't pretty.
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Kentucky had three runners top 60 yards, including quarterback Randall Cobb, who racked up a team-high 82 yards rushing in only his second career start.
The Wildcats ran the option throughout the game, confounding the Georgia defense. Players didn't execute the game plan, safety Reshad Jones said, and the team simply wasn't prepared for what Kentucky's offense did with Cobb under center.
"They've got a lot of speed, and that's one of the things that we've got to work on, just containing that outside,” Curran said. “Running that option, we've got Georgia Tech coming and other teams like that that like to run outside."
Before the Bulldogs run up against Georgia Tech's triple option, they'll have to find a way to contain Auburn quarterback Kodi Burns, whose numbers last week dwarf even Cobb's strong outing.
The sophomore ran for 158 yards on 13 carries against Tennessee-Martin, making Auburn's offense — which enters the week ranked 100th in the nation — a bit more intimidating than the overall numbers might seem.
Kentucky's offense hadn't been lighting up the scoreboard until Georgia's arrival either, but Cobb's mobility helped carve up Georgia's defense.
"They had a mobile quarterback,” defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. “We haven't really faced a mobile quarterback. We've prepared for it, but there's no excuses. They did a good job.”
The Kentucky game, however, wasn't an aberration for Georgia, whose run defense has suddenly has become vulnerable.
Before their latest three-game road trip, the Bulldogs were among the nation's top run defenses, surrendering only 61 yards per game. In the past three weeks, however, opponents have averaged 200 yards per game.
LSU, Florida and Kentucky averaged almost 4.5 yards per carry and have tallied 11 rushing touchdowns — and the quarterbacks have led the charge.
Cobb became the second straight quarterback to run for three touchdowns against the Bulldogs, following Florida's Tim Tebow in a 49-10 blowout two weeks ago. LSU's Andrew Hatch came in as a change-of-pace quarterback and contributed a 20-yard run for the Tigers, who scored 38 points on the Bulldogs' defense.
It was Kentucky that exposed the Bulldogs the most, however. Defenders struggled to get off blocks to pursue runners laterally.
"Their offense, it was just a lot of chop blocking they did and things to get up on us and keep us from getting outside,” Curran said. “Guys were not able to get off their blocks and run free. They just played with a lot of intensity."
Georgia will need to match that intensity against Burns this week, but it also will need better execution.
Although the Bulldogs made several key second-half stops, it took too long for them to adjust to Kentucky's option attack.
“The quarterback was pitching the ball, and the fullback was cutting our pitch guy, so they were having success with that,” linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said.
Richt said Auburn won't need to run the option against Georgia to have the same success. Any time the quarterback is a threat to run, he said, the defense is faced with a mismatch — one Georgia has had difficulty overcoming this season.
“If you roll a safety into the running game because your quarterback is a runner, you literally have a blocker for everybody except for the free safety, who is playing deep,” Richt said. “(Auburn) can cause the same kind of trouble as we saw against Kentucky.”
The last thing Georgia’s defense wants to see this week, however, is a repeat performance of what happened against Kentucky. In fact, Irvin said the unit held a players-only meeting to ensure it wouldn’t happen.
Irvin is keeping the details of the meeting a secret for now, but he isn’t hiding his expectations for the Bulldogs’ defense against Burns.
“He’s a good mobile quarterback,” Irvin said, “and if we can contain him real well, we’ll easily get the win.”