Richt gets ready for Thompson's USC defense

Mark Richt

ATHENS — South Carolina starting defensive end De'Adrian Coley wears No. 45. His backup, Jordin Lindsey, wears No. 41.

That may seem like just a quirky detail to college football fans who are accustomed to seeing defensive ends in numbers from the high 80s to the 90s, but it will mean much more to No. 9 Georgia's offensive players this Saturday against South Carolina.

While the marquee matchup of the game is Steve Spurrier's Gamecock offense against Georgia's defense, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt is spending a lot more time worrying about dissecting Gamecock coordinator John Thompson's defense.

"It's just a little bit different everywhere he has been," Richt said. "It's been a whirlwind for me since the end of (the Boise State) game. It's been not a lot of sleep for us."

Georgia (1-0) plays South Carolina (1-0) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Sanford Stadium. The game will be televised by ESPN.

Normally, on Tuesday of a game week, Georgia's offensive staff would have decided on the framework of its game plan and be working on specific plans of attack, Richt said.

"With this defense, you spend an awful lot of time just trying to figure it out, figuring out who is lining up where and why," Richt said. "You're like, ‘Is this guy a linebacker or is he really a d-end?' because they're all milling around."

That's where the unconventional numbers make it just a little tougher for Georgia's players to identify defenders in the six seconds or so between lining up and the snap of the football. Thompson's defense relies heavily on confusion, which means he will use multiple groupings and move players around in the same group to give an offense as many looks as possible.

"They do some funny-looking stuff," Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley said. "Some plays they'll have just two defensive linemen, and the rest of them are just roaming around looking crazy."

Thompson, in his first year as the Gamecocks' defensive coordinator, has been in charge of defenses at Northwestern State, Louisiana Tech, Southern Mississippi, Memphis, LSU, Arkansas, Florida and East Carolina in the last 17 years.

He and Richt have faced three times, and the outcome has usually hinged on Thompson's personnel. In their most recent meeting, Richt's offense scored just 13 points in a 2002 loss to Florida.

Thompson can't be manipulated by an offensive system, Richt said. Against Boise State, the Bulldogs used two-wide receiver formations almost exclusively because Richt knew what defensive alignment he would see against that personnel grouping.

"South Carolina, they don't seem to care what personnel group that you're in, they're going to make sure there is as much organized chaos as they can give you," Richt said.

Richt had success against Thompson's defense in their first two meetings, when Florida State whipped Southern Miss 54-14 and then when Georgia beat Arkansas 34-23. Georgia offensive lineman Daniel Inman said he recognizes some of the Gamecocks' unorthodox formations from the Florida game and Arkansas game when Thompson coached at those schools.

"We've seen a little bit of it, but not all of it," he said. "You have to identify who's who and that tells you where to go."

The Gamecocks already have Thompson's system down pat despite just playing one game with it, Richt said.

"At the snap of the ball, they all know where they're going and they're going there full speed, so we'd like to know where they're going," he said. "Right now, we're not ready. Hopefully, by Thursday or Friday, I'll feel better about things."

Mark Richt vs. John Thompson
2002 Thompson (Florida) beats Richt (Georgia) 20-13
2001 Richt (Georgia) beats Thompson (Arkansas) 34-23
1996 Richt (Florida State) beats Thompson (Southern Miss) 54-14

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