I think if you ask most Georgia fans to name the team’s biggest mystery of last season, they would point to the defense against the run. Part of what contributes to the mystery is why the performance so badly failed to live up to the talent level. Early season suspensions, opponents’ reluctance to test the passing defense, a sense of complacency – you name it.
But the one thing that seems to get the most blame is this:
In diagnosing the problem, many around the program have pointed to stamina: The above five players were the only ones who really saw action during key times, and Jones missed the final half of the season with an injury. So it was no accident that, for instance, the run defense broke down in the second half against Alabama.
Smith thinks stamina was a big problem.
“Last year there were times I basically played every snap, didn’t get a break at all,” said Smith, a senior who will be the lone returning starter on the defensive line. “The thing is, even though I was still playing as hard as I could, if you cut that in half, and you get that much fresher with the reps, somebody else playing with you, you could be that much better just getting the rest time.”
That sounds convincing, until you look at the game log for last season. Georgia’s most dominant stretch on run defense came in the three games after Jones was lost for the season. It was with the Georgia Southern game that the wheels started coming off the wagon. Now maybe there was some cumulative effect over the course of the season that took its toll. Or maybe the key was the number of carries defended in a game: with the exception of the Florida game, the yards per carry average was noticeably worse when the opponent rushed the ball forty times or more.
Anyway, the buzzword now seems to be depth. The coaches want to spread the number of snaps around to keep linemen fresh, which would be a different approach from last year. But that was said then, too. In the heat of the battle, it all comes back to the same thing.
Head coach Mark Richt said there was rotating last year, but when Jones got hurt last year the staff didn’t really replace him.
“At the end we probably didn’t have enough guys that we felt comfortable putting in there,” Richt said. “That was the main reason. We got a feeling that we’re gonna have a higher comfort level with more guys than a year ago, basically.”
G-Day left me hopeful in that department. Hope ain’t the same thing as trust, though. We’ll soon see if the change from Garner to Wilson makes as much difference in the fall as they’re saying it does now.