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Georgia's slumping defense tries to tune out critics

ATHENS - Rennie Curran is willing to acknowledge what he said some of his teammates won't admit: He reads what the fans post on the Internet about Georgia's defense.

Lately, the postings on the message boards from some Georgia fans haven't been kind.

The impatient fans have statistical ammunition for their criticisms.

Georgia gave up 38 or more points in three straight games before last week's 17-13 win at Auburn.

The No. 13 Bulldogs (9-2) have outscored Southeastern Conference opponents only 215-214, making their 6-2 SEC record somewhat remarkable. The 214 points allowed are the current high mark, though some teams still have to complete their SEC schedules.

It's no wonder Curran, the linebacker who leads Georgia with 98 tackles, said the Bulldogs need a few days off before playing Georgia Tech on Nov. 29 in their final regular-season game.

Curran said the players need a long weekend to get away football and, hopefully, to ignore some of the angry postings, including those who criticize defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.

'For anybody to say anything negative about him, it's kind of disheartening,' Curran said Tuesday. 'I know how much passion he has for us and how much he puts into each practice. Seeing how hard he works, I feel bad when anybody says anything bad about him.'

Curran said the fans' perspective is 'from the outside looking in.'

'I can't really blame them,' he said. 'They see the scoreboard, they see what the score is, but they don't see the film.'

Recent scores, even in wins, have been scary for the defense. Georgia took a 52-38 win at LSU before losing 49-10 to Florida and then escaping Kentucky with a 42-38 win. Fans also remember a 41-30 home loss to Alabama on Sept. 27.

Georgia ranks 10th in the SEC in scoring defense for all games with its average of 23.8 points allowed. In SEC games, the average is almost 27 points allowed.

Curran said players never doubted the defensive scheme or their coaches.

'No, I don't think our confidence at all went down,' Curran said. 'I don't think we ever stopped believing in each other and that's why I think we were able to bounce back with this Auburn game.

'At the end of the day, we knew we had each other and we knew we trusted each other and trusted the coaches no matter what anybody said about us or about our coaching staff. We all knew that we would get the job done. We had a bad string where a lot of points got put up but we'd go back to practice and put our helmets on and go back to work and get it right.

'No matter what went wrong, we always kept a positive attitude about each other and what we're doing.'

Fullback Brannan Southerland said the offense hasn't lost faith in the defense.

'We've leaned on the defense sometimes and not helped them out and sometimes the offense has had to help them out,' Southerland said. 'To me the big thing is as long as we're winning, I don't care what the score is. As long as we're winning that's OK with me.'

The Bulldogs were given study days on Monday and Tuesday by coach Mark Richt. They will practice today and Thursday and have conditioning work to complete before being cleared to leave Friday.

Many players will spend the weekend at their homes. Quarterback Matthew Stafford said he's returning to his home in Texas for the first time since May.

Practice will resume Monday, when the Bulldogs' defense must renew its preparations for Georgia Tech's spread option offense.

'Knowing that we had an open date prior gave us a little more peace,' Richt said Tuesday. 'But still even a two-week time is a crash course. ... It's tough.'

It's a difficult assignment for a defense that hasn't faced a true option offense all season.

Georgia Tech (7-3) plays Miami on Thursday night.

The last test for the regular season is for Georgia to try to extend its seven-game winning streak against Georgia Tech, but now a slumping defense has less than two weeks to prepare for the Yellow Jackets' new offense.

'I'm pretty sure it's enough time because football is football, no matter what formation somebody is in,' defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. 'If you practice enough and you game plan, it can be stopped. I mean, I'm pretty sure it can be stopped because they're not undefeated. I'm not saying that to be cocky or anything, but it can be stopped.'