ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs allowed 30 or more points a program-record eight times last season.
They gave up 372 passing yards to LSU and 323 rushing yards to Auburn. Then there were the breakdowns — Auburn’s 73-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-18 and Nebraska’s 99-yard aerial connection in the Gator Bowl.
With so many setbacks last season coupled with the departures earlier this year of three starting defensive backs who had eligibility remaining, it would seem that new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt could be in for some early gloom and doom.
Or just the opposite.
The senior inside linebacker tandem of Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera and the outside linebacker duo of junior Jordan Jenkins and sophomore Leonard Floyd provide a solid foundation, having combined for 46 starts last season and for 345 tackles. In fact, Georgia’s linebacker quartet was rated the best in the nation this summer in Phil Steele’s College Football Yearbook.
“It definitely makes you feel happy that people have recognized what you’ve done,” Jenkins said. “At the same time, it also puts a target on your back should we have a bad game. If we don’t play well, people are going to start talking trash. It definitely puts a target on our back, and I’m not used to that at all.”
Georgia became accustomed to defensive success in 2011, when the Bulldogs finished fifth nationally in yards allowed per game. Early-season suspensions led to a more erratic 2012 season, as the Bulldogs put the defensive clamps on Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn but were ravaged by Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama.
An exodus of talent after the 2012 season resulted in an expected downturn last season, and communication woes made matters even worse. Former coordinator Todd Grantham left in January for the same job at Louisville, but the Bulldogs made a quick splash by hiring Pruitt from Florida State, which was fresh off the national title.
Pruitt typically is low-key in commenting on personnel, and that remains the case in discussions of Georgia’s top-ranked linebackers.
“I think that’s where the most experience is on our defense,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got some guys who have played a lot of football for Georgia, and if you watch the tape, some of them have played really well at times and probably didn’t play as well as they would have liked at times. The big thing with those guys is being more consistent over the course of a game.”
Wilson led the Southeastern Conference with 133 tackles last season, and Herrera was next at 112. Wilson has missed most of this month due to a reported concussion, which has left Herrera working alongside sophomore Reggie Carter.
Herrera, like Pruitt, isn’t making much of Steele’s ranking.
“If we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, they could say that we’re the worst linebackers once the season starts,” Herrera said. “We’ve just got to work hard as a whole and try to make what they say true.”
Jenkins and Floyd last season combined for 100 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Jenkins flourished his freshman season as opposing offenses focused on Jarvis Jones, and Floyd was effective last season and really came on late, amassing 18 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in his last three games.
Both outside linebackers have expressed more comfort under Pruitt compared to Grantham.
“Coach Grantham was an NFL coach, and I love him to death and like what he’s done,” Jenkins said. “He’s good with guys who aren’t raw, because younger guys who came in got a little bit confused. Coach Pruitt wants everyone to understand what is going on, and I really like that we’re rushing [the passer] more than we did last year.”
Said Floyd: “I think he’s going to cut both of us loose. There is nothing like that feeling of getting a sack and having that crowd go nuts. It’s like a shark when he smells blood, so I’m looking forward to getting back there on every snap.”
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 ...