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Sunday May 3rd, 2015 8:51AM

Unlikely rivalry? Dogs, 'Dores ready after intense 2011 battle

By The Associated Press
ATHENS -- Todd Grantham has been known to yell and curse and throw things - and that's when dealing with his own players.

So it was no surprise to them when Georgia's fiery defensive coordinator got into it with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin after a game last season.

"We see that almost every day," linebacker Michael Gilliard said Tuesday, breaking into a smile.

The fifth-ranked Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) are getting set to host the Commodores, rekindling memories of last year's wild finish in Nashville.

Georgia was up by 16 in the third quarter, but Vanderbilt had a chance to pull it out in the closing seconds. The Commodores blocked a punt and got the ball back at the Bulldogs 20, only to come up short of the end zone on the final two plays.

Things really got crazy after the clock ran out. Franklin came across the field to shake hands with Georgia coach Mark Richt and apparently had some sort of altercation with a Georgia player. Grantham jumped into the fray, screaming at Franklin.

A year later, Grantham has no regrets about his actions that night.

He didn't apologize then. He's not apologizing now.

"We're all competitive people," Grantham said after practice. "Things happen. You learn from it and you move on. We're just got to make sure we keep the focus on the game and get ready to play a game on Saturday."

Turns out, the altercation at Vanderbilt gave Grantham even more cred in the locker room than he already had. His guys will do just about anything for their leader, even though he's usually harder on them than he is the other team.

"Anytime a coach on the opposing team comes at one of our players, our coaches should step in. We were glad to see coach Grantham step in and have our backs for that," defensive back Sanders Commings said. "He told us he was a players' guy and he would have our backs no matter what."

Georgia is a two-touchdown favorite over the Commodores (1-2, 0-1), who haven't beaten a ranked SEC team since 2008 and have lost to the Bulldogs 16 of the past 17 years.

Franklin has tried to instill a new attitude. Georgia wants to show its business as usual.

"We'll be charged up. We remember last year," Commings said. "Vandy's a good team, but they're not us. We're going to show them."

While Richt wasn't necessarily happy with the way the game ended a season ago, he has no regrets about hiring a coach with Grantham's demeanor.

"I knew he had lot of fire," Richt said. "I wanted that in the guy who was going to lead the way for us on defense. I think defense is played with a lot of emotion. Of course, you've got to have a good scheme ... but it's an emotional game. It's about playing hard. It's about getting after it. When the guy in charge of that group has that type of personality, it bleeds over into the way his players play."

Franklin said he's moved on since last year's game, which got downright chippy at times and resulted in half-game suspensions for three players - two from Georgia, one from Vanderbilt.

"Everybody else is going to talk about it, but I know coach Richt's going to focus on playing the game and the fundamentals, and that's what we're going to do," Franklin said. "It was an emotional, passionate, great game last year. But we're going to do what we do every single week and focus on (this) game."

He even managed to joke around when asked if he had talked with Grantham since their confrontation.

"Yeah, actually our families went on vacation together. Disney World," the Vanderbilt coach said. "We were floating in the pool together, drinking mai-tais."

Then he turned serious.

"We saw each other and most of the assistants on the road recruiting," Franklin said. "He does a great job and has done a great job for a long time. His defense plays hard and flies around. They're passionate about what they do and we're passionate about what we do. It's nothing more than that. I do have respect for how his defense plays."

Georgia's players have learned that Grantham sets a demanding standard - and everyone gets treated the same when they don't do their job. If doesn't matter if you're an All-American or a scout-teamer.

"He stays on us all the time," Commings said. "If we give up a run of more than 5 or 6 yards, it's too much. If we give up a pass of more than 8 yards, he'll get onto us. I like that. We want to be great. He wants us to be great. If he's OK with us giving up big plays, then we'll never be great."

Grantham's pregame pep talks and halftime rants have taken on a life of their own within the team.

Even the offense tries to get in on what he's saying.

"He's crazy," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "We like to listen in if he throws a board or breaks something or flips a chair. He does some crazy stuff. It's funny at times. But I know our defensive guys respect him and listen to whatever he says."

If more trouble breaks out during Saturday's game in Athens, look for Grantham to be right in the middle of things, standing up for his players.

"He's not going to back down from anyone," Murray said.
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