Georgia under pressure to get more pressure

semerson@macon.comOctober 17, 2012 

ATHENS -- As they left the practice field the other day, Cornelius Washington and Abry Jones did some commiserating. They talked about what a good practice they felt they just had and how they hoped that bodes well for turning around a disappointing season for each of them.

Deep down, the Georgia seniors know that no matter what else they do, they are ultimately judged by one stat -- sacks.

Last year, as juniors, they ranked second and third on the team in that vital category, combining for nine sacks.

This year, between them, they only have half a sack.

“The coaches are basically just coaching us, telling us we need to get better at getting to the quarterback,” Jones said. “But it’s not something they really have to say out loud; it was something we were definitely saying to ourselves. And it’s something we’re focusing on in practice; individually, we’re trying to pass rush a little bit better.”

It’s not just Jones and Washington. The lack of sacks continues to be a surprising weakness for the Georgia defense, and a big reason it has struggled thus far. The team has 10 sacks through six games, after racking up 35 last year -- and only DeAngelo Tyson (who had 1.5 sacks last year) did not return this season.

What’s more, a freshman (outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins) has accounted for three of this year’s sacks. All-American Jarvis Jones leads the team with 5.5 despite missing a game and remains on track to equal or surpass his 13.5 total from last year.

Otherwise, a group of Bulldogs who accounted for 20 sacks last year has a grand total of half a sack. That belongs to Washington, who had five last year.

Abry Jones, who had four last year, has zero. Ditto for nose tackle John Jenkins, who had three last year and was expected to become a bigger factor this season.

There are mitigating reasons in each case: Abry Jones has been slowed by an ankle injury the past couple of games. John Jenkins and Washington also have moved around a lot, with Jenkins seeing time at end and Washington at both end and outside linebacker.

But after six games, the seniors aren’t pretending they’re not disappointed.

“We’re definitely dealing with some things right now,” Washington said. “We’re trying to get back to the way we played last year and in the previous year. But like I said man, it’s been kind of rough here lately.”

“It’s a little frustrating,” Abry Jones said. “But teams are not just gonna do what you want them to do. They’re going to game-plan the best they can so they can win the football game, so you’ve just gotta take what they give you.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham often states that he prefers quarterback pressures as an accurate measure of pass pressure. But even that stat is down, from 158 last year to a pace for 140 for a 14-game season.

“We’re a competitive bunch. Sometimes just having the pressure isn’t good enough for us,” Washington said. “We definitely know we have to step it up.”

There may also be some schematic reasons for the diminished pass pressure. The team has faced more running quarterbacks, for one. But even last year, when it faced Mississippi State’s mobile quarterback Chris Relf, the Bulldogs racked up five sacks.

This season, the defense survived its mistakes through five games, but then its failure to get to South Carolina’s Connor Shaw -- or even contain him -- proved decisive.

“We consciously tried to do something a little different against South Carolina. We didn’t want to have the same situation in a game where the quarterback ran all over the place,” Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “But he still broke it open a few times, when we felt like we were doing some things, and then for some reason we lost contain on the outside, we still let him step up there. We’ve just gotta keep working and keep getting better.”

One thing Garner said will happen is junior Garrison Smith will play more at defensive end. Smith finished last year as the starter, after Tyson was injured, but was supplanted at the beginning of this year when Washington was moved to end.

But in retrospect Garner wishes he had given Smith more snaps. Garner pointed to the Tennessee game, in which Jenkins and Abry Jones each played about 60 to 70 snaps and thinks each should have been rested for 10 to 20 snaps in favor of Smith. Garner also wishes he had given Smith about 10 more snaps at South Carolina.

“That’s really what I should have done. I told him that when we met, ‘I’m kicking myself,’ ” Garner said. “But when you’re in that type of game, you’re going with the guy that you trust, that you know is gonna execute ... even though he’s wounded, and he’s out there trying to suck it up.”

Ultimately, however, the individual players aren’t ducking their own responsibility. Abry Jones pointed out his ankle injury didn’t happen until the fifth game. Washington admitted that quarterback pressures just aren’t as good as a sack.

“Things are on the up and up, but we are aware of things that are going on, the way we’re playing individually and as a defense,” Washington said. “We’re making strides to correct it all.”

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