JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Georgia's defense is keenly aware of Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah.
Several Bulldog defenders Saturday had warm praise for the Husker junior, who has run for 1,568 yards in 12 games this year.
“Abdullah, man, he's good,” defensive lineman Garrison Smith said at Georgia's practice facility, Jacksonville University. “He's a hard runner, and he's built like a little rock. It's going to be a great challenge going up against him, because that guy right there is a competitor and a very talented running back. He's good. He's real good.”
Bulldog linebacker Amarlo Herrera compared Abdullah to Heisman finalist and Auburn running back Tre Mason. Abdullah, Herrera said, is a “little bit better to me.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said his team has tackled for two straight days in practice in part to work on bringing down Nebraska's ballcarriers.
“Watching his film, I told these guys yesterday, you can't knock down a good back, you have to tackle him,” Richt said. “You've got to wrap him up, you've got to tackle. That's why we were tackling yesterday and tackling again today — to get the sensation of wrapping a guy up and getting him on the ground.”
Richt said the Bulldogs did a good job of stopping the run this year. Georgia's defense ranks 43rd nationally in rush yards per game (148.5) and is tied for 28th in yards per carry (3.74). Only three teams — South Carolina, Auburn and Georgia Tech — gained more than 200 yards rushing on Georgia.
But Georgia has forced only 14 takeaways this year, 111th nationally. (Nebraska has also struggled with takeaways, forcing just 16.) Richt said the Bulldogs haven't made many changes in “ball disruption drills” and doesn't recall many opportunities to create turnovers. Last year, Georgia had 30.
Senior safety Connor Norman said he and his teammates have to make the most of their chances.
“We just gotta make plays on the ball when they're in the air,” Norman said. “Take opportunities when they come. Gotta capitalize on those opportunities.”
Another area where the Bulldogs have struggled is in third-down defense. They've allowed opponents to convert 40.1 percent of their third downs.
Georgia's young defense — 10 starters are scheduled to return — will get better with experience at forcing three-and-outs, Richt said. He compared the growth of his defense to his son, David, finally learning to perform a headstand.
“In the beginning, he couldn't do it,” Richt said. “And he couldn't do it, and he couldn't do it. I don't know how many times he tried. He might have tried 50 times, 100 times, couldn't do it. Then one day he did it, and every time after that, he could do it. You make mistakes as you go. You learn through trial and error sometimes. It just takes experience.”
Bulldog defenders didn't seem too worried about preparing for Nebraska's two quarterbacks, even though redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong and fifth-year senior Ron Kellogg have decidedly different skill sets.
In fact, Herrera compared the two to one dual-threat quarterback.
“It's just like all the dual-threat quarterbacks we play, they just have two,” Herrera said. “You have to know what the one is good at and what the other is good at. And then you make them do what they're not good at.”
More notes from Georgia camp:
Ľ Wide receiver Chris Conley, who caught the game-clinching, 87-yard touchdown pass in last season's Capital One Bowl, hurt an ankle in practice Friday, Richt said. He missed practice Saturday. Richt has not ruled out Conley for the game.
“We're hopeful he'll be able to come around,” Richt said. “Chris is very, very tough. He can play through a little pain. If he's 80, 85 percent, I think he can play and play pretty well.”
Ľ Smith suffered an ankle injury in the last regular-season game against Georgia Tech. To show he was healthy Saturday, he did a shuffle dance for reporters.
Ľ Funny moment with junior Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson, whose big season — 128 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, four sacks — had him considering early entry to the NFL draft. At the beginning of his interview Saturday, he said he hadn't decided what to do. By the end, he'd changed his tune.
“I'm leaning more toward staying,” Wilson said. “I'm probably coming back. Yeah, I'm coming back.”
“Thanks for making it easy,” quipped a Georgia beat reporter.
Why did Wilson consider leaving?
“It was just nice to think about,” Wilson said. “I'm just blessed to have the opportunity. I was enjoying the experience of dreams coming true, of having a chance to get drafted and all that, but school is more important, getting my degree.”
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Video: Ameer Abdullah after practice Saturday
Video: Nebraska practices Saturday
Video: Tommy Armstrong after practice Saturday