published Friday, October 19th, 2012

Georgia trying to upgrade its defense

Georgia free safety Bacarri Rambo wraps up Tennessee tailback Marlin Lane.
Georgia free safety Bacarri Rambo wraps up Tennessee tailback Marlin Lane.
Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ATHENS, Ga. — Perhaps the play that best typifies Georgia's underachieving season defensively occurred early in the fourth quarter at South Carolina.

With the Gamecocks leading 28-0 and facing a fourth-and-1 at their 20-yard line, they came to the line hoping to draw the Bulldogs offside. All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones obliged, extending a drive that concluded with a Connor Shaw touchdown run that made it a five-touchdown game.

"They were never going to snap that ball," Bulldogs inside linebacker Christian Robinson said this week. "They looked like they were going to do a quarterback sneak, but all of their linemen's hands were up by their side. You're not going to do a quarterback sneak when the linemen aren't down in a stance.

"They go down and score, and we look undisciplined and look like we don't know what we're doing."

Or perhaps it was the 10-yard touchdown pass from Tennessee's Tyler Bray to Rajion Neal in the final minute of the first half, a play that left Bulldogs inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera turning to safety Shawn Williams and throwing his arms up in the air.

"They said the wrong thing," Herrera said of the defensive call, "and I did the wrong thing."

Despite having players with multiple starts returning at every position, Georgia's defense has been a disappointment and an enigma through the first half of the season. The Bulldogs are allowing 373.8 yards and 24.2 points per game after giving up 277.2 yards, which ranked fifth nationally, and 20.6 points last season.

It's not like the No. 13 Bulldogs are competing in the NFC North, either, as only one of their first six foes -- the No. 9 Gamecocks -- has a winning record. Buffalo and Florida Atlantic are each 1-5 yet combined for 43 points at Georgia's expense.

"We definitely expected to play better than we have this year," cornerback Sanders Commings said, "but we still have six games left, so we still have a chance to prove ourselves. I still think we can be the best in the country. Every man just needs to do his own job and not worry about someone else's assignment.

"Last year, we were more detailed in our assignments, and we've been working on those things."

Commings and outside linebacker Chase Vasser were suspended for the first two games this season, while inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and All-America safety Bacarri Rambo were suspended for the first four. That led to more inexperience, especially in the secondary, and then Jones became injury prone.

Jones strained his groin in the second game at Missouri, when he had an interception and forced a fumble in the fourth quarter, and may miss Saturday night's game at Kentucky with an ankle sprain.

The lack of lineup continuity has led to a lack of communication and more breakdowns -- such as 13 pass plays allowed of 25 or more yards. The Bulldogs also have become less opportunistic, collecting just 10 turnovers after compiling 32 last season.

For these reasons and more, third-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham appreciated last week's open date.

"It's been a snowball effect," Grantham said. "Let's say it doesn't go the way you want it to early, and you want to try to make something happen. When you have this happen this many times it can be a lot of things, but the main thing is to get it corrected. You have to make sure guys are where they're supposed to be and doing what they're supposed to do.

"You can play three plays and win two, holding them to no yards, but you give up a big play and it's no good. Our players have to let the plays come to them and do what they're supposed do."

Georgia has allowed 20 or more points in five of its first six games for just the third time in the past 100 years. It happened in 2009, when Willie Martinez was fired as defensive coordinator, opening the door for Grantham, and it occurred in 1993, which was Richard Bell's last season as coordinator before Ray Goff hired Marion Campbell.

Grantham is hardly considered "hot seat" material, but there is no debating that his Bulldogs have not performed as well since he signed a new three-year contract at $825,000 annually.

"We played well in all of the second halves until Vandy, and then we played well the whole Vandy game, but then none in the last two games," Herrera said. "We've been a 7.5, but we're going to take it to a 10.5 this week. We'll get turnovers and turn them into points."

Said Grantham: "We are 5-1, and we've largely done what we were supposed to do from a mix-and-match standpoint to win the game. I've seen progress, and I think as we move forward, the continuity that we have will be fine."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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