Communication problems hurt efforts of Georgia’s defense

Todd Grantham typically wears a different color shirt than the rest of the Georgia coaching staff so he doesn’t blend in on the sideline.

A Georgia staff member stands behind Grantham with a white towel spread out as a backdrop when the Georgia defensive coordinator is signaling plays to his defense.

He’s hard to miss, but that doesn’t mean his message is always getting through clearly.

Inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera looks to Grantham for the call and relays it to the safeties in the defensive backfield, his fellow linebackers and the defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage.

Ideally, each Georgia defender knows the hand signals, which indicate a play call.

But there’s a problem — some Georgia defenders say they are still learning the hand signals, which can change each week. And Herrera’s voice isn’t always able to rise above the decibel level of the crowd.

“Anything where you’re not around the ball, or not around me or not around someone who’s calling the play, that can be a problem,” Herrera said.

The result? Some players are lining up without knowing the complete call or a coverage adjustment and mistakes happen.

“It’s small details in all the play calling,” said Herrera, who is second on the team with 36 tackles. “It’s a lot and if you miss a small detail, it could be a big play.”

LSU converted 10 of 15 times on third down against the Bulldogs on Saturday.

Georgia’s defense is last in the Southeastern Conference in opponents’ third-down conversions, allowing 26 conversions on 58 attempts (44.8 percent).

The Tigers dug themselves out of five third-and-long situations with big gains. Two of those conversions resulted in LSU’s longest touchdown passes of the game — 48 and 39 yards, which came on third and 7 and third and 9, respectively.

“It was getting kind of frustrating, but … it all goes back to the secondary communicating,” freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins said. “We just got to communicate better and just listen to what the coaches tell us to do.”

Herrera said the younger players need to lower their learning curve in a hurry and keep up with the changing hand signals. He said it will help the defense can get off the field after pinning a team in a third and long.

“We still got to iron some things out in the perimeter,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Some of it is just learning as far as exactly what we want done and how it’s done.”

Secondary coach Scott Lakatos said the defensive backs practice like they won’t be able to hear, making the hand signals and play calls a priority every day.

But it’s not isolated in the defensive backfield.

“I remember a couple times I didn’t get the right call,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “It’s not just the secondary — it’s the line too at times.”

Jenkins went on to suggest that he get involved in the process of relaying the calls to the defensive linemen so they can get set on the line of scrimmage sooner. At least until the defense adjusts fully to the youth in the lineup.

“It’s not too complicated. We are just used to the linebackers making the calls,” said Jenkins, who recorded his first sack of the season against LSU. “I guess now we’re at a point in time in our careers where we just need to have more people learning it.”

Grantham was terse in his response when he was told by reporters that some of his defenders were not getting the complete play call.

“That’s bull. Everybody knows the signals,” he said. “They need to get them. They need to know the call. I don’t know who was saying that, but that’s part of youth, too, so they need to take it on themselves to get the call.”

Herrera said the it would be “minor things” the Bulldogs would have to fix on defense to fix the communication problem.

“It is what it is. [The calls have been made] this way since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s the same thing. There’s no way you can make it easier.”

Lakatos said the communication problem is all relative with his defensive backs.

“They should know the signals,” Lakatos said. “I think a lot of problems are just guys doing what they’re supposed to do, when they’re supposed to do it. Whether they have the signal or not, that’s always relative. I think it’s a matter of doing what they’re supposed to do on every call.”

A previous version of this story stated Georgia’s defense is second to last in the SEC in opponents’ third-down conversions. Georgia’s defense is last in the SEC in opponents’ third down conversions.