Louisville’s Grantham: ‘I’ve always known I was a good coach’

Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said facing his former team in Georgia does not provide any special incentive beyond the challenge of slowing down the Bulldogs' explosive offense. (Photo by Matt Stone/Louisville Courier Journal)

Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said facing his former team in Georgia does not provide any special incentive beyond the challenge of slowing down the Bulldogs’ explosive offense. (Photo by Matt Stone/Louisville Courier Journal)

ATHENS — Todd Grantham, whose Louisville defense finished among the top 10 in the country this season, said Monday he doesn’t necessarily feel vindicated by the Cardinals’ success.

Louisville (9-3) enters its Dec. 30 Belk Bowl matchup with Georgia (9-3) ranked No. 6 in the nation in total defense (293.3), No. 3 against the rush (93.7) and No. 4 in third-down conversions allowed (28.2 percent). All are dramatic improvements upon what he did in his final season as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator last year.

“I’ve always known I was a good coach and knew what I was doing,” said Grantham, speaking on a conference call with reporters on Monday. “If you go back look at the changes we were able to establish and make at the University of Georgia during my time there, we were able to win games, we were able to really put Georgia back on the map for being relevant, we were able to beat Florida three years in a row and do those things. We were 8-1 against Florida, Tennessee and Auburn the last three years, 3-0 against Georgia Tech. Those things are important.”

As for the Bulldogs’ struggles in 2013, Grantham blamed that on youth and inexperience. Georgia last year finished ranked 41st or worse in nine statistical categories for defense, including turnover margin. The Cardinals are 12th this year in turnovers gained and are tied for first in interceptions with 25, including 14 by one player.

“We obviously had a really young team and we kind of faced some veteran offenses with some veteran quarterbacks,” Grantham said of his last Georgia group. “Because of that we had to take some shots with those guys. But I think they got better for it. They were able to mature and that’s one of the reasons they’re able to have some success right now.”

Grantham increasingly drew criticism for his unit’s breakdowns, particularly on third down. But coach Mark Richt vowed to stick with him after the 2013 season, his fourth with the program. But Grantham abruptly left on Jan. 13 after Louisville coach Bobby Petrino offered him a guaranteed five-year, $5 million contract.

As fate would have it, Louisville and Georgia drew each other in a bowl game less than a year later. Grantham answered reporters’ questions on Monday on a teleconference call. Following are some of the highlights:

On learning Louisville would be playing UGA …

“I was actually recruiting. Right now we’re having the best recruiting class Louisville has ever had and we’re on the road recruiting hard now because this is how you end up beating Florida State and winning the ACC this time of year. So I was out recruiting and found out a little bit later. You know, obviously it’s going to be great competition for us. They’re such a talented team, so we’re going to have to continue to prepare and work hard over the next few days.”

On what he knows about Georgia’s offense …

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“Mike’s done a tremendous job with those guys. He’s passionate in his coaching, he has a great mind for what he wants to get done and they’ve done a very good job of recruiting there. They’ve got some talented guys. So the combination of good coaching and good talent has allowed them to be one of the most explosive offenses in the country and they deserve a lot of credit for the success they’ve had this year.”

On knowing a lot about the Bulldogs’ personnel …

“It still gets down to getting off blocks, tackling people and one-on-one matchups on both sides of the ball. So (knowing personnel) won’t play into as big a factor as you guys will make it out to be. I think it gets down to just playing football. Obviously they’re a talented team, one of the best offenses in the country. So we know we have to play well and be ready for a big challenge.”

Harvey-Clemons contributions this season have been on the Louisville scout team.

Harvey-Clemons contributions this season have been on the Louisville scout team.

On progress of former UGA players Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins …

“Those guys have done a great job for us on scout team. They’ve worked hard, done a tremendous job in the classroom. They’re working to be better players with our strength and conditioning staff. They’re excited to get back on the field in the spring and compete for starting jobs. I’m really proud of what they’ve done this fall as far as helping our team get to nine wins with their work during the week.  We do something a little different; we actually practice our young guys on Sundays in kind of a controlled scrimmage deal, so I get to be around those guys on Sunday and spend time with them.”

Reflecting on his time at Georgia …

“It’s something I’m very proud of. When you go back and look, we changed the culture and developed a mental and physical toughness there. Going back to when I was first hired and the perception of the program to where it is now, we won two SEC titles and competed for the SEC championship, had two 10-win seasons, won 22 games in two years. … When you look at wins and losses and developing mental toughness, I think we did a tremendous job.”

Grantham's Louisville defense, ranked 3rd nationally against the run, will be focused on containing Georgia's Nick Chubb. (AJC photo)

Grantham’s Louisville defense, ranked 3rd nationally against the run, will be focused on containing Georgia’s Nick Chubb. (AJC photo)

On defending Nick Chubb and the Bulldogs’ run game …

“It’s a tremendous challenge. Nick has done a great job running the ball and their offensive line has blocked and gotten their hats on people. They’ve created movement at the point of attack and Nick does a good job of running through guys. Their receivers have blocked really well. Any time you get those kinds of double-digit runs, it’s a team that’s doing it. We understand that. We just try to work to play with good pad level, play with effort and energy and know where our run fits are. You want to take the seam away.”

On decision to leave Georgia last January …

“Coach Petrino is a guy that is a proven head coach. We were coming into the ACC for the first time. If you look at our record, we were 9-3, which leads me to believe I was right in what I was thinking as far as we can win the ACC and a national title here. (Petrino) is a guy who had won here before, a very good offensive mind. So to be able to team up with him is something I was fortunate to do. I was able to hire my brother (linebackers coach Tony Grantham) and bring him with me and get my family closer  to his. So the combination of all that really allowed me to make the decision and it’s been positive to this point.”

On whether playing the Bulldogs provides some extra “juice” for the Belk Bowl …

“Not really. I mean, it’s a game we’re going to play. It’s a chance for us to showcase our talent in a national setting. Like I said, it goes back to a chance to win 10 games for this university and this football program and send our seniors out the right way. Our underclassmen and guys that are coming back can use this to propel them into the offseason and what we ultimately want to accomplish, which it winning the ACC and competing for a national title. so that really needs to be what the focus needs to be. That’s my focus.”

On view of UGA’s defense under Jeremy Pruitt ….

“I havent really watched them on film. I know Jeremy through working for Nick Saban and his one year at Florida State. He’s done a very good job. He’s a very good coach with what he’s trying to do. But I haven’t really had a chance to watch them on tape and see what they’re doing. But I know that staff is doing a really good job and I’m sure they’re looking forward to playing the game also.”

 


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