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Will 'Junkyard Dogs' re-emerge vs. S.C.?

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ATHENS -- When Bacarri Rambo was in grade school, he changed his last name.

He's sure glad he did.

Bacarri Fudge wouldn't sound nearly so intimidating for a starting safety at Georgia.

"When people see the name 'Rambo' on the back of my jersey, they expect me to be a hard-nosed killer with a scarf around my head and paint under my eyes," he joked. "If I was playing in the secondary and named Fudge, everybody would say I was soft. I went from being soft to being hard."

These days, Rambo is trying to be part of another name change. After years of getting lit up on defense, Georgia would like to rekindle a familiar moniker: Junkyard Dogs.

"We're trying to get our swag back, man," said Rambo, invoking the name of a coordinator still remembered fondly around Athens, the late Erk Russell. "We've got the players. It's all on us."

Coach Mark Richt didn't just leave it in the hands of the players, though.

He fired defensive coordinator Willie Martinez and brought in former Dallas Cowboys line coach Todd Grantham run the defense.

Grantham immediately put his stamp on the unit, switching to a 3-4 alignment and vowing to be more aggressive in calling blitzes and stunts. The reviews from the first game -- a 55-7 rout of outgunned Louisiana-Lafayette -- were generally positive, especially when pressure off the edge forced the first of three interceptions by the Ragin' Cajuns.

"That was good," Grantham said. "You get the guy to throw the ball early, and he throws it in a bad spot. That's the whole ticket right there."

But the real test will come Saturday, when the No. 22 Bulldogs (1-0) hit the road to take on 24th-ranked South Carolina (1-0) in a game that generally sets the tone for the Southeastern Conference rivals.

The defense could really be under the gun if Georgia has trouble in the passing game -- a distinct possibility with redshirt freshman Aaron Murray playing his first SEC road game and star receiver A.J. Green serving what is now a four-game suspension for selling a bowl jersey in violation of NCAA rules.

That's OK with the guys like Rambo, eager to show this isn't the same unit that had so much trouble stopping top teams under Martinez.

"It's fun because we're learning something new," Rambo said. "We want to see how it turns out. I think it's going to turn out great. Coach Grantham has a great scheme and a great mindset for what he wants to do. He's a great defensive mind. He knows what he's doing. We just have to follow his lead."

Even taking more chances, the inevitable consequence of a team that relies on the blitz, Grantham showed he's not going to tolerate giving up the sort of big plays that plagued the Bulldogs in previous years. Leading Louisiana-Lafayette 24-0 late in the first half, Rambo was suckered by a pump fake and gave up a 60-yard touchdown pass.

When Rambo got to the sideline, ohhhhhh did he get an earful from the new coordinator, who ripped off his headset, flapped his arms wildly and let loose with a verbal barrage that can't be repeated around the dinner table.

"That's part of the learning process," Grantham said, sounding a lot more calm after a practice this week. "When situations come up, we need to answer the challenge and be able to stop them. If we don't, we've got to learn from it. We learned from it, moved on and played better in the second half. It's just one of those things."

Georgia fans cheered Grantham when he was shown on the video board, and they're certainly hoping he's able to transform a unit that was burned for 40 points six times over the last two seasons.

"This defense is definitely an attacking defense," inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. "It's not the old defense where we sat back on our heels. ... We're definitely going to be bringing the heat, no matter who the opponent is, whether it's a running team or a passing team. That's just how it is."

This week should give a much better indication at how effective Grantham's defense will be. The Bulldogs are going against South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who has designed some of college football's most explosive offenses over his long career.

"I think even coach Grantham will tell you the players are going to make all of us look good or bad, whoever I'm coaching, whoever he's coaching," Spurrier said. "But he has got a little different scheme of things, a little bit different kind of scheme than a lot of people. Hopefully we'll have a little different kind of scheme than maybe the NFL has seen in the last several years and so forth as far as the spread and stuff like that."

Robinson is eager to see how it all works out.

"It's like they finally let the dog out of his cage," the linebacker said.

Let's see if that's a junkyard dog.