Just because Georgia has played in a couple of shootouts already this season doesn’t mean Todd Grantham is expecting that’s the way it will be for the duration of this season for better or worse.
“I certainly hope not,” the Bulldogs’ fourth year-defensive coordinator said.
Georgia’s defense was expected to have some growing pains with the loss of eight starters from last year’s team, and it has.
With as many as three freshmen starting, Georgia has given up a combined 921 yards and 68 points in two games, but allowed only six points in the second half of a 41-30 victory over then-No. 6 South Carolina on Saturday.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “We’ve got a long way to go if we want to win the national championship and compete for the SEC title. We’ve just got to keep working.”
The Bulldogs are doing that during this bye week before their next game against North Texas on Sept. 21.
There were positives to take away from Saturday’s win, the biggest a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter.
“The initial feeling was good because we won the game, but we know that we gave up touchdowns and we gave up big plays that we should not have given up,” Herrera said.
“We’ve got to get a lot better,” defensive lineman Garrison Smith said. “We gave up plays. We’re still doing things to ourselves. We’re making simple mistakes that are hurting us. We’re self-inflicting a lot of wounds. We’ve got to change that.”
Herrera isn’t blaming youth for the breakdowns.
“Anybody can come out here and play, we’re just missing assignments,” he said. “Inexperience is part of it, but if you know it in and out, then you can make plays.”
He said he thinks improvement will come as players better grasp the playbook and can play faster.
Georgia had issues with tackling against Clemson, particularly on the perimeter, but defensive end Sterling Bailey saw improvement against the Gamecocks.
“We’re playing physical, we’re starting to outwork our opponents,” Bailey said. “That’s one thing I think we’re improving on.”
Georgia’s starting inside linebackers rank 1-2 in the SEC in tackles. Herrera has 24 and Ramik Wilson 22, but coach Mark Richt wants more substitution at that position. That would mean more playing time for freshmen Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough, but Herrera doesn’t sound like he wants to come out of the game.
“I’m probably not going to come out unless I get hurt,” said Herrera, who said he played all 61 defensive snaps against South Carolina and only came out of the Clemson game when he had cramps.
Grantham was encouraged by improvement in the red zone Saturday, forcing a field goal and making the stand at the goal line.
“I think the more they play, the better they’re going to get and I think their confidence will exemplify that,” Grantham said.
Herrera and Wilson snuffed out Mike Davis on an option pitch on a fourth-and-goal at the Georgia 1-yard line.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I feel like we made plays when it counted the most,” said sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons. “That’s what really matters. This off week is going to give us a chance to get our chemistry all the way together. Once we get that going, I feel like it’s going to be trouble for a lot of offenses coming.”
Richt liked what he saw from Bailey and Ray Drew, but he said wants to see more from the line. He said Bailey and Drew are playing with their pads down but other linemen stood up to much and got moved on a day Georgia gave up 226 rushing yards.
“We’ve got to have guys that will force double teams, guys that will drop anchor and not let people move them,” Richt said. “I think our perimeter is going to get better just by virtue that they’re getting this experience.”
Georgia has first-year starters in the secondary in freshmen Brendan Langley and Tray Matthews and Harvey-Clemons, a sophomore who returned from a one-game suspension.
“I know on the first kickoff he knocked some guy down,” Richt said of Harvey-Clemons. “You can tell he couldn’t wait to hit somebody.”
Harvey-Clemons, who played the star nickel back for most of the game, was rusty in some areas, Richt said, losing contain on one big run.
“Our safeties have to take better angles when it comes to tackling,” Richt said. “He’s one of those guys.”
Langley had trouble in pass coverage on two touchdowns.
“Once we get it together,” Langley said, “we’ll be a pretty good darn defense.”