Georgia, Aggie defenses get shot at redemption

SHREVEPORT, La. - Texas A&M defensive back Jordan Pugh is sick of hearing about it.

On TV, in the paper, at his favorite restaurant, all anyone wants to talk about is all the points that will be scored when the Aggies play Georgia in Monday's Independence Bowl.

"That's all you hear," Pugh said Sunday. "They talk about the offense every day. As a defense, we're going to be out on the field, too."

Of course, there's a good reason for all that talk of a high-scoring affair.

Texas A&M (6-6) has given up 30 or more points eight times this season and more than 60 points twice. The Aggies' opponents averaged 32.7 points per game, 104th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Georgia (7-5) was a touchdown better, giving up 26.4 ppg. But that ranked the Bulldogs an unaccustomed 10th in the Southeastern Conference and led to the firing of three defensive assistants, including defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.

The Independence Bowl gives each defense a chance to prove it's no pushover.

"You've got to look forward to that," Pugh said.

Neither Georgia coach Mark Richt nor Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman expects 10 touchdowns today.

The Aggies' defensive troubles can be explained by youth and inexperience. Sherman played 18 freshmen this season - the second most in the nation - and 14 of the 22 players on the defense's two-deep depth chart are underclassmen.

The Bulldogs' plight is a little harder to get a handle on and just how they'll respond to the loss of Martinez and the other assistants remains to be seen.

The trio of fired coaches turned down Richt's invitation to remain with the team through the bowl, leaving one full-time assistant and two graduate assistants to help prepare a gameplan and run practices.

"My main role on the defense was to try to set some parameters with the defensive staff," Richt said, "to say, 'Look, let's not reinvent the wheel, let's try not to do some things that our guys aren't comfortable with. Let's do what we do, let's get a plan that is sound and hopefully as simple as possible, so we can put our players in position to make the plays."'

Richt, a former offensive coordinator, sat in on defensive meetings, mostly to keep an eye on morale and attitude. He relied on injured senior defensive end Roderick Battle to step into a coaching role from time to time.

"He worked some with the defensive ends," Richt said. "But I think a lot of our guys stepped up and made sure everybody was hustling, made sure everybody was paying attention, made sure we kept our attention on what's important."

And what's important when it comes to defending Texas A&M is stopping Jerrod Johnson, who set 11 school records in a breakthrough season he would love to crown with Texas A&M's first bowl win since 2001.

Johnson completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,217 yards with 28 touchdowns against six interceptions. He added another 455 yards rushing and eight scores.