Georgia Bulldogs: Making moves to unleash the defense

Defense is the key for Georgia.
NCAA Football: Georgia at South Carolina
Georgia Bulldogs cornerback Damian Swann (5) celebrates an interception against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium. (Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports)

(C+P) — Since 2008, only one team managed to win a national championship while surrendering more than 13 points per game. Georgia failed to do that once over the last six years. Last season it experienced the worst of its defensive struggles, surrendering 29.0 points per game.

With the hiring of Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and the loss of three starters in the secondary, the Georgia defense expected to go through an adjustment period. Following a loss to No. 14 South Carolina (2-1, 1-0), it appears that they still have a lot of adjusting to do.

The Bulldogs are coming off a 38-35 loss to the Gamecocks. South Carolina dominated the Georgia defense, racking up 447 total yards including 176 on the ground. They had no trouble finding the end zone as they were forced to punt only twice. Dylan Thompson led the attack as he completed 21-of-30 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns.

Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Amarlo Herrera (52) and linebacker Ramik Wilson (51) celebrate a sack by Herrera of South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson (not pictured) in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium. (Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports)
Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Amarlo Herrera (52) and linebacker Ramik Wilson (51) celebrate a sack by Herrera of South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson (not pictured) in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium. (Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports)

Georgia’s inexperienced secondary struggled against the South Carolina passing attack from the beginning of the game. Thompson started out hot completing 10 of his first 11 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs made a number of lapses in coverage and the senior quarterback consistently exploited these mistakes.

Another reason for the Bulldogs’ struggles defending the pass resulted from their lack of a pass rush. Amarlo Herrera recorded the teams’ only sack in the game. Georgia’s defensive front played a huge role in their second-half success against Clemson in the first game, sacking Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt five times. Their inability to pressure Thompson on Saturday allowed him to take his time finding the open receiver.

The early success through the air really opened up the running game in the second half for the Gamecocks. After only rushing for 48 yards in the first half, South Carolina pounded the Georgia defense in the second half rolling of 128 yards on the ground. The Bulldogs had no answer for Brandon Wilds. He carried the ball 14 times for 93 yards and one touchdown. This success, running the ball, allowed South Carolina to run the clock out at the end of the game.

Turnovers were the only things that seemed to slow the Gamecocks’ offense down. Two out of the three drives in which they didn’t score resulted from turnovers, including an interception by senior cornerback Damian Swann. The other offensive mistake for South Carolina was a fumble in the first quarter by Wilds that led to a Georgia field goal.

An improved defense will be crucial to Georgia’s national title hopes. Last season the Bulldogs gave up 38.6 points per game against ranked opponents. This year they have two ranked opponents left on the schedule. The toughest of these games appears to be a showdown with No. 5 Auburn, who will be looking to match the 43 points they scored on Georgia last season.

Georgia understands the privilege of having a high-powered offense. The last four years its offense ranked in the top-33 for scoring offense, but they did not win an SEC championship in any of those years. If the Bulldogs want to make that jump they need a defense that can show up against ranked teams, and this year’s team has yet to consistently show that.

Fortunately, the defense should get the chance to work the kinks out against Troy on Saturday. It is vital they use this game to correct the mistakes from the past two games and get ready for the rest of conference play.

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