Midway through the season, Georgia’s defense hasn’t produced like expected.
The Bulldogs, No. 5 nationally last season in total defense, rank in the bottom half of the Southeastern Conference in every major statistical category.
Georgia is eighth in pass defense (212.3 yards per game), ninth in total defense (373.8) and pass efficiency defense (125.4), 10th in rushing defense (161.5) and scoring defense (24.2 points per game) and 12th in sacks (1.7 per game).
“We’ve had two games with our starters back, and obviously we’ve got work to do,” third-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Saturday after Georgia’s 35-7 loss at South Carolina. “It’s one game. We’re 5-1. We’ve got a chance to win some games down the road, but to do that we’ve got to play better. So we’re going to work hard, improve in the areas we need to and we’re going to come out a better football team.”
Grantham dealt with four starters serving suspensions during the first month of season. Georgia remained unbeaten — making the plays it needed in the fourth quarter in wins against Missouri and Tennessee — until Saturday’s loss despite safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, two of the team’s best defensive players, missing the first four games. Cornerback Sanders Commings and outside linebacker Chase Vasser served suspensions the first two games.
“The plays that were known for making, we need to start making those plays,” said outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, an All-American last season.
With the defense at full strength the past two games, opponents have scored an average of 39.5 points, although one touchdown came on an interception return and another on a punt return.
“I think it’s a great time for the bye week,” Commings said. “We have time to go fix all of these errors we made, and hopefully we can get back and beat Kentucky in two weeks.”
Georgia’s defense has given up 14 plays of 30 or more yards so far this season. Tennessee is the only other team in the SEC to have given up that many, according to CFBstats.com.
“You cannot give up explosive plays,” Grantham said. “We’ve got to work on that and we’ve got make sure that everybody’s on the same page and we’ll get better.”
Only two against Georgia came Saturday against South Carolina.
South Carolina’s Connor Shaw completed a 42-yard pass to Damiere Byrd, who went up in the air and won a battle for the ball with safety Bacarri Rambo.
“Anytime the ball’s up in the air deep, we’ve got a chance to make a play,” Grantham said. “We just want to try to make those plays.”
Georgia gave up 232 yards rushing to a South Carolina team was content to move the ball via the ground game after building a 21-0 lead. The Bulldogs have slid from 11th nationally against the run last season to 68th this year. They are giving up nearly 100 more total yards per game than last season’s 277.2 average.
Jones was limited to four tackles and a sack against the Gamecocks Shaw threw just three passes after the Gamecocks opened a 21-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game.
“We didn’t do anything special for Georgia,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “We called our protections and went and played. Of course, we didn’t attempt a whole bunch of passes after we got that big lead.”
Spurrier said redshirt freshman offensive tackle Brandon Shell did a good job blocking Jones.
“He pushed him past the quarterback,” Spurrier said. “He’s sort of a wide rusher. He pushed him past several times. We didn’t have to do anything special as far as our protections to block the Georgia D-line.”
South Carolina center T.J. Johnson was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week on Monday. He had seven knockdowns and allowed no quarterback pressures.
Georgia has given up eight pass plays of 35 yards or more this season, including three of 60 or more yards.
Shaw connected with D.L. Moore for 62 yards on Saturday on a play where Commings was on coverage.
“I just didn’t make a play,” Commings said. “The same thing happened to Rambo. …Those are plays we’ve both made before in games and in practice.”
Grantham said Georgia needs to execute the play call and “be on the same page” in coverage.
“When deep balls are thrown downfield, that’s an opportunity for us to make plays, so we’ve got to relish that,” Grantham said. “Those guys are gritty back there. They’ve got some fight to them, so we’ll make sure we give them plenty of opportunities to make some plays like that in practice, and they’ll make them next time.”
Notes: Jones sprained his right ankle during Saturday’s game, according to director of sports medicine Ron Courson. No word yet on his availability for practice this week or for the Kentucky game. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said about injuries on the “Bulldog Hotline” radio show Monday night: “I don’t really forsee anything being a major issue for the Kentucky week.”. …The game at Kentucky on Oct. 20 game is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff. The game will air on either ESPN2, ESPNU or FSN. That makes five of Georgia’s seven games with nighttime starts. …Georgia returns to practice today.