Athens, Ga.—Entering its game against Missouri today, unranked Georgia (4-2, 2-2 in SEC) is seemingly reeling, especially its defensive secondary, after the Bulldogs back-to-back struggles against the offensive attacks of Alabama and Tennessee—both games ending in defeat.
Ironically, there had actually been talk of benching the quarterbacks of the previous two opponents—before the Georgia game for Alabama’s Jake Coker, and supposedly during the Bulldogs’ contest for Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs; nevertheless, both signal callers responded by terrorizing Georgia’s secondary with two consecutive quarterback performances against a Bulldog secondary unsurpassed in recent memory.
In Alabama’s 38-10 win over Georgia, Coker completed 11 of 16 passes for 190 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Not known as a running quarterback by any means, Coker added 28 yards on the ground and a touchdown on six carries. For Dobbs, he had been limited to 9-of-19 passing for 110 yards and an interception as the Volunteers trailed by three touchdowns late in the second quarter. However, from that point on, he picked apart the Bulldogs’ secondary, completing 16 of 23 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns. In Tennessee’s 38-31 comeback win, Dobbs added 118 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, becoming only the second SEC quarterback the last 20 years to rush for 110+ yards against the Bulldogs (151 by Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010).
It was against Tennessee, the Bulldogs’ secondary not only struggled in their pass coverage, as was the case against the Crimson Tide, but missed on numerous tackles, as well.
“[The secondary] will learn to support the run, and tackle in space better,” head coach Mark Richt said this week regarding his secondary’s tackling woes, while adding, “But, we haven’t given up a lot of big [passing] plays—we’ve given up a couple here and there.”
With “Big Plays” being defined as plays covering 25+ yards, according to this week’s UGA media notes, the Georgia defense did only allow a couple of big passing plays “here and there”: merely two in the first four games of the season. However, that number has more than tripled in just the last two games, allowing two big passing plays to Alabama, and three to Tennessee for a total of seven on the season.
After an admirable performance during the first month of the season, the question arises if Georgia’s pass defense has regressed the last two weeks.
“I don’t really want to speak [regarding the Alabama and Tennessee games],” said sophomore safety Dominick Sanders. “We’re working as a secondary, and learning from our mistakes.” He added the secondary is learning from its mistakes in practice by executing and communicating better, while making sure “everyone is on the same page.”
Sanders, who last season became only the second defensive back in UGA’s modern era (after cornerback Tony Flack in 1982) to start all of Georgia’s games as a true freshman, has started all six games this season. He has tallied 29 tackles, including two and a half for loss, and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and five pass break ups. Sanders is also one of an astonishing seven freshmen or sophomores on the two-deep for the Bulldogs’ four defensive back positions.
“[The secondary] is a pretty young bunch there,” Richt said. “There’s some freshmen playing, and starting—backing up for sure.”
The young bunch includes sophomores Malkom Parrish (6 starts) and Aaron Davis (5), and true freshman Rico McGraw (2) at cornerback. Besides Sanders, other safeties include true freshman Johnathan Abram (3) and, the only non-freshman or sophomore on the two-deep, junior Quincy Mauger (6). Still, despite the secondary’s inexperience, and its recent lowly performances, Georgia’s head coach is optimistic regarding the young group.
“They’ve been pretty solid, I’d say,” Richt said of the secondary’s preparation this week for Missouri. “They’re growing, and I think they’re getting better.”
At quarterback, the Tigers start Drew Lock, who recently became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Missouri in 20 years. In relief of veteran Maty Mauck, the youngster has performed average at best, completing 57 percent of his passes for 512 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Lock, whose 107.5 passing efficiency rating ranks 105th of 114 qualifiers in the FBS, will face a raucous Sanford Stadium crowd tonight against a Bulldogs team desperately seeking a victory.
But, as demonstrated, the last two quarterbacks Georgia confronted were faced with adversity, as well, and each generated a career performance against the Bulldogs’ befuddled secondary. Still, the Georgia defensive backfield is not looking back on Alabama’s Coker or Tennessee’s Dobbs, but focused upon Missouri’s Lock.
“Looking back at [those games]—it’s over with now,” Sanders declared. “We have to come back, and perform better.”