One more thing I wanted to discuss after seeing the replay deserves a post of its own. I wouldn’t exactly describe me as encouraged and I’m not going to go all Seth Emerson on you here, but I’m starting to come around to the idea this Georgia defense isn’t quite as hopeless as we feel it is.
Hear me out for a sec.
Yes, there are parts of the defense that are bad. Horribly bad. Bad enough to overcome what good play there is on that side of the ball. (Is there a term for the whole is less than the sum of its parts?) But there is good play, and I would argue that we’re seeing more of that from some of the defense as the season goes on.
- This year’s defensive line has played itself into an asset. I think you can make a legitimate argument that it’s better on run defense than last year’s line, despite losing Geathers and Jenkins. There is true depth across the line. Ray Drew has developed into a real factor.
- The pass rush, minus Jarvis Jones, is ahead of last year’s pace in generating sacks.
- Georgia has three players in the top twenty in the SEC in tackles for loss, including Jordan Jenkins, who, in an off year so far, is eighth in that category.
- The inside linebackers have been solid in run support. Both are in the conference’s top five in tackles, and, yes, while some of that is the result of running down busted plays, a lot of it is happening because Herrera and Wilson are doing their jobs.
- There are other signs of player development, most noticeably with Harvey-Clemons and Wiggins.
The problem for the defense is that there are three areas which are enormously flawed and are dragging down the overall production of the unit.
- Safety play. I’ve already hit on this in my last post, so I don’t need to rehash much here. But the reality is that a good amount of time, Georgia isn’t playing with eleven men on the field. This is bleeding into the two other problem areas.
- Outside run defense. Georgia’s been very good on defending runs inside the tackles. That’s not so much the case when it’s attacked on the periphery. That’s a combination of several things, but largely because the secondary doesn’t do its job in run support.
- Passivity. The line play isn’t soft, but the secondary plays that way. It’s rare to see a receiver jammed at the line of scrimmage or to see routes disrupted. Add to that the uncertain safety play, and it’s pretty easy to see why the defense struggles with third-down conversions and forcing turnovers. Those may be the symptoms as opposed to the underlying illness, but more than anything, they’re what’s killing the defense right now.
I know Grantham’s not interested in my advice, but he’s got to start taking some steps to neutralize, or at least cut the effect, of the worst of the defense’s problems. If it were up to me, I’d ditch the 4-2-5, at least until Matthews and Norman can make it back. Short of that, I’d blitz either Mauger or Moore every single play. They may not make any more plays than they are now, but they might have an effect on opponents’ pass protection that could allow other defenders to step up and affect the passing game. Georgia’s coverage can’t get any worse than it already is. The same goes for the run defense.
Grantham’s also got to force his kids to play with more aggression. I’m not talking about late or questionable hits. But more run blitzes and some press coverage might shake some of them loose.
I will also say that I think some of the heat about communication and adjustments may be dissipating. It was heartening to see the way the defense came out ready to play in the third quarter. It was even better to see them adjust to take away the option and some of the quick screens that burned them in the first half. I also saw less confusion lining up against a fast paced Missouri offense than I’d seen in earlier games. There is some coaching going on, even if it’s not generating results as quickly as we’d like or the defense needs.
I’m not trying to be Little Mary Sunshine here. Collectively speaking, this is the worst secondary I’ve seen from a Richt-coached team. Considering what we saw in the last days of Martinez, that’s pretty damning. And I’m doubtful how much of that can be truly fixed this season. But I do think with some damage control – and some better health – it’s possible for the defense to be less of a liability. With what’s left of the regular season schedule and with Gurley and Bennett coming back, that may be enough. Grantham needs to get to it.