Georgia defense near bottom of pile in forcing turnovers

Ray Drew has finally become the pass-rushing menace that Georgia fans had hoped to see.

Now, the Bulldogs would love it if Drew, or anybody on defense for that matter, could force some turnovers right about now.

Georgia’s defense has come up dry this season in getting takeaways.

“Whenever you get that chance, they say take a shot at the ball,” said Drew, who ranks third in the SEC with five sacks. “You never know what the quarterback’s mindset is, whether he’s going to try to throw it or whether he’s got it out wide. You want to take advantage of every opportunity that you’re given.”

Georgia ranks tied for 117th nationally in turnovers gained with five.

That’s a drastic change for a Georgia defense that ranked in the top 30 nationally in that category in each of Todd Grantham’s first three seasons as defensive coordinator.

The Bulldogs were tied for 17th last season during a season when it tied for second in the nation in fumbles recovered with 17. Georgia tied for seventh with 32 turnovers gained in 2011, including 20 interceptions, which ranked fifth in the nation.

Even in Grantham’s first season in 2010, Georgia produced 26 turnovers.

“We’ve just got to keep working it, keep addressing it, just like we have the last couple of years,” Grantham said. “I think as guys become more veteran out on the field, I think that number will increase because they’ll have a little bit more savvy on how to get the ball out, whether it’s the second guy in stripping the ball, whether it’s pattern distribution read, breaking on a route, whether it’s going to get the sack and it’s, `Hey, I’m going to get the sack but I’m going to get the ball out.’ I think all of those things can happen the more you play.”

Georgia certainly is missing a player like inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, who is tied for second in the NFL with three forced fumbles as a rookie with the Rams. Ogletree returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown on Sunday.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, a first-round NFL draft pick, was a game-changer in wins over Missouri and Florida last season and led the nation with seven forced fumbles.

“Some of those younger guys are still learning and getting their feet wet and gaining their confidence,” junior receiver Chris Conley said. “I have all the confidence in them in the world and once they start making those plays, they’re not going to stop.”

It’s not just the young and inexperienced players not getting turnovers.

Junior cornerback Damian Swann, who led Georgia with four interceptions last season, doesn’t have any this year.

The lone interception for Georgia through six games belongs to freshman safety Tray Matthews, who has missed the last two games with a pulled hamstring. Georgia is tied with Illinois, Kentucky and South Dakota State for fewest interceptions nationally.

“I feel like it comes with time, being at the right place at the right time as well as film study,” safety Corey Moore said last week. “We can make this young secondary a thing, but it’s no excuse. We’ve still got to get the job done.”

Fumbles usually come from sacking the quarterback, Grantham said, but that hasn’t translated into fumbles forced by Georgia.

The Bulldogs are tied for third in the SEC with 16 sacks.

“Usually when you get sacks, you get the ball out every once in a while with that quarterback,” coach Mark Richt said. “I think our guys are just trying to get the sack and not really think, `Hey, while I’m back there let me see if I can strip the ball out of there.’ Or even sometimes when runners are running down the field and you’ve got them hemmed up pretty good. … I don’t know if our guys are really thinking that far ahead of the game as they’re still trying to line up right and play the right fundamentals and get a guy on the ground. Or just bat down a ball rather than let’s go for the pick.”

Richt said as players get more comfortable, they’ll make more plays.

“We practice our hearts out every week,” Drew said. “You got guys going up batting balls, you’ve got guys going up intercepting balls in practices. It’s a matter of things falling your way when you need them to in a game.”

Said Richt: “We work drills until we’re blue in the face, but you’ve got to kind of do it in the heat of the battle. You’ve got to keep coaching it and teaching it.”

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