“I tell you what, Erk, anytime you shut anybody out, he loved it,” said Frank Ros, a linebacker who captained the 1980 national championship team. “It didn’t matter how you did it.”
Russell, who died Friday in Statesboro, ended every game day defensive meeting by saying, “If they never score, we’ll never lose,” Ros said. However, it seems the art of the shutout left the Bulldogs near the time Russell did.
When No. 10 Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC) shut out South Carolina 18-0 on Saturday, it was just its sixth shutout since 1982. In fact, the goose-egg game has gone out of fashion across the SEC.
The four shutouts notched by conference teams this weekend were more than in either 2005 or 2004, years in which SEC teams combined to shut out six opponents.
Between 1980-1982, Georgia shut out seven teams, six conference foes and Texas A&M.
“Obviously, offenses are a lot more sophisticated now, and points are almost inevitable,” Ros said. “When you can shut a team out, it’s just huge.”
It’s even bigger if it’s an SEC team on the receiving end. Since the league split into divisions in 1992, only five teams have shut out two conference opponents in the same season. (See chart.) Alabama’s 1992 national championship squad is the only team to shut out three opponents of any stature in a season in that time span.
“It’s always a great feeling to shut anybody out because it’s hard to do that,” cornerback Ramarcus Brown said. “That’s what you play for. You play to shut people out. We want to do that more.”
Nobody on Georgia’s defense is making any predictions, but it’s worth noting the Bulldogs have Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kentucky left on the schedule.
As happy as Bulldog defensive coordinator Willie Martinez was with the shutout, he was happier that it was salvaged by two goal-line stands.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Martinez said. “We always say, ‘It doesn’t really matter where the ball’s at, just put it down. As long as they snap the ball, we’ve got a chance.’”
The Bulldogs were last in the SEC in red zone defense last year, allowing opponents to score on 84.4 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line.
“We didn’t do a good job last year,” Martinez said. “It was good to be on the road against a good football team and keep them out of the end zone. That was huge.”
The total defensive effort, Coach Mark Richt said, was a tribute to the way Russell coached.
“The young players, the first time they heard ‘Erk’ on Friday, they were kind of looking around like, ‘Who is that?’” linebacker Tony Taylor said, “But the older guys who have been here three or four years know what he means to the University and the defense as a whole.”
“He started it here,” Martinez said. “We talk about it all the time.”