The tackling issue

Willie Martinez

ATHENS – It's the simplest logic in sports. "The best way to get better at tackling is to tackle," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

That doesn't mean it's the simplest thing to accomplish. The Bulldogs (6-2, 3-2 SEC) face one of their two most dangerous offensive foes of the season Saturday in a decided stopping slump.

Florida (6-1, 4-1) is third in the SEC in total offense at 394.1 yards per game. More impressively, the No. 9 Gators average 6.51 yards per play, which is 12th-best in the NCAA.

"I think they're a whole lot better right now than they were this time a year ago, which is scary for us," Richt said.

Georgia missed a season-high 13 tackles three weeks ago against Tennessee, improved a bit against Vanderbilt the following week and then took a turn for the worse again last week, most noticeably near the goal line against Mississippi State.

MSU running back Anthony Dixon rumbled to touchdowns of 5, 5 and 3 yards, bouncing off Bulldogs all the way.

"You can't design too many defenses to stop that if you can't make a tackle," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "We've just got to tackle better. Jeeesh. We've got guys there; we just can't make a play."

That won't cut it against a Gator team with offensive players as dangerous as Dallas Baker, Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow.

"They do a lot of great things on offense," linebacker Tony Taylor said of the Gators. "We can't go in there missing tackles and making mistakes like we did (against Mississippi State) and expect to win."

Richt's and Martinez's dilemma is how to toughen up a team that is playing its ninth game in nine weeks and already is paper thin along its offensive line. Last Tuesday was the first time all season the Bulldogs haven't practiced in full pads.

It's customary for teams to back off on practice contact as the season wears on, but Georgia may be forced to get back to basics.

"I don't know what we'll choose to do," said Richt, who added he will consult head athletic trainer Ron Courson about how much contact his team can withstand.

There are other factors in Georgia's tackling woes. Chiefly, the Bulldogs' best tackler, middle linebacker Jarvis Jackson, has been slowed all season by plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of a tendon on the bottom of his foot.

There's also the ghost of Thomas Davis, which still haunts this team, Richt said.

"I really believe Thomas Davis was the best open field tackler I've ever seen in 20 years of coaching," Richt said. "That guy was special."

This year's team, conspicuously missing a Thomas Davis or even a Greg Blue, has to improve its tackling by committee, Richt said.

"The worst enemy of a tackle is a back who has a little bit of space or a little bit of a head of steam coming at you," he said. "We've got to do a good job of getting in position to make tackles before they break out into space. The way to get better is everybody to fit properly within our scheme and our safeties to get to them before they get into space."

The time to get better is now.

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