UGA defense heads back to the drawing board

dhale@macon.comSeptember 22, 2009 

ATHENS — Some moments are just bad enough that they’re best forgotten.

Bryan Evans isn’t saying Georgia’s defense can’t take some lessons from Saturday’s shootout in Arkansas, but he wouldn’t be too upset if the coaches burned the film.

It was far from the defense’s finest performance, and while Evans said there’s much to be done before Arizona State visits Athens this weekend, the healing for the Bulldogs defenders has to start by putting last week’s meltdown behind them.

“What we’re going to do to look forward is just to forget this game,” Evans said. “It’s over with. We have an out-of-conference game this week, and we know they’re capable of putting up some points.”

The good news for Georgia is that it escaped Arkansas with a win, and that’s a start. The bad news, however, was that the defense looked utterly inept for much of the game, while Razorbacks quarterback Ryan Mallett carved up Georgia’s secondary to the tune of 408 passing yards and five touchdowns.

Mallett’s big day came via a bevy of big plays, with the Razorbacks cashing in on long bomb after long bomb, including three touchdown drives that combined to take just six plays.

“It was just like hand grenades – drop back, launch it, somebody go make a play,” defensive tackle Jeff Owens said. “That’s my style of play on (the) NCAA (video game). That’s what’s killing us is the vertical, but we’re going to make some adjustments, go back to the drawing board and regroup.”

That will be the plan this week, but Evans said it’s hard to pin too much of the blame on scheme. The majority of the problems were simply execution.

“Some plays we’re in great position to make plays, we just didn’t make them,” Evans said. “Other times, we’re just lackadaisical at getting to our positions where we’re supposed to be at. They hopped on us fast, and that’s just something we have to fight through.”

Despite the troubles defensively, Georgia did manage to regroup when it counted.

Arkansas was just 3-of-14 on third downs in the game, and while the front four did a nice job of slowing the run, the secondary finally got on track late in the game to hold up its end of the bargain.

Mallett was just 2-of-10 passing in the fourth quarter, and Arkansas managed just two field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes as the Bulldogs’ offense was finally able to pull away late.

“Early on when they were scoring points back to back to back, we knew we weren’t playing the way we’re capable of playing,” said sophomore corner Brandon Boykin, who was burned on two of the Razorbacks’ touchdown passes. “We took their best shot, and we were still in the came. So we just regrouped and we were able to hold them off.”

The pass-friendly defense wasn’t a new problem for Georgia against the Razorbacks, however. Just a week earlier, South Carolina tallied 313 yards through the air, as well.

Despite the discouraging stats, Owens insists the problems begin up front, and the onus can’t completely fall on the defensive backs.

“For the front seven, we’ve got to get more pressure on the QB,” Owens said. “We’ve got to rush more. That’s what our focus should be this week. We know Arizona State is going to throw the football, and as a defensive tackle, I’ve got to pin my ears back and try to get to the QB.”

Georgia had just two sacks in the game — one coming late in the fourth quarter when Arkansas was desperately heaving the ball downfield in a futile comeback attempt. So far the is season, the Bulldogs have just four sacks, the second-worst mark in the SEC.

From the lack of pressure to the deep bombs, however, everyone shares a bit of the blame for the meltdown against Arkansas, Evans said.

The frustrations are high, but a win is a win, and he said, and the defense would rather focus on the end results — both the victory and the strong fourth quarter — and work to ensure four strong quarters this week against Arizona State.

“It was frustrating on the defensive side of the ball just knowing that the offense was keeping us in the game,” Evans said. “You don’t want to feel like you’re not helping your team get the win. The fourth quarter we held them to three points, and that’s something we had to do was finish the drill and keep them out of the end zone.”

EXTRA POINTS: Georgia quarterback Joe Cox was named the SEC’s offensive player of the week after leading the Bulldogs to a win over Arkansas and tying a school record with five touchdown passes … CBS picked up the Oct. 3 game between Georgia and LSU for its 3:30 p.m. national telecast … Georgia announced Monday that former athletes Matt Stinchcomb, Kim Arnold Arenas, Bernadette Locke Mattox and Brent Noon would be inducted into the school’s circle of honor … Former Bulldogs running back Herschel Walker signed a contract with Strikeforce to fight in a mixed martial arts event.

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