ATHENS -- As Leonard Floyd puts it, Georgias defense was simple in the second half.
Everybody knew what they were doing. The defense was easy, Floyd said. We played the same calls basically the whole time.
For anyone watching No. 12 Georgias defensive unit in the teams 45-21 victory over No. 16 Clemson on Saturday, it seemed to be anything but simple. A total of 21 Georgia defenders made their way onto the games final stat sheet, a testament to the faith Georgias coaching staff had in its defensive depth.
There were times cornerback Damian Swann filled the linebacker slot. There were times Floyd was essentially playing the nose tackle position, attacking the quarterback from the middle. Aaron Davis, who recorded his first-career interception, even said postgame that he couldnt remember whether hed played more cornerback or more safety. Its also worth noting that Georgia head coach Mark Richt couldnt remember the last time (Georgia) had an interception like the leaping one Davis had against Clemsons Cole Stoudt.
But Georgias defense made one thing clear Saturday: They dont care who is on the field or where they are playing. Or, to take Swanns words, In Pruitt they trust.
Hats off to Coach Pruitt, man. We love that guy because he has so much confidence in us, Swann said. Whatever he puts us in, he knows we can execute it.
Pruitt wasnt made available after the game, but his players made up for his absence by mentioning his name countless times. After allowing 21 points and 276 total yards in the first half, Pruitt, according to linebacker Jordan Jenkins, entered the locker room surprisingly calm.
His message was short and clear.
He really just came in and said its another business day. Its nothing were not used to, Jenkins said. Its just been two quarters. Were a four-quarter team.
His point fueled the defense immediately to start the second half. Clemsons first three possessions of the half ended abruptly with three-consecutive three-and-outs. In fact, the Tigers only first down of the entire second half didnt come until there were 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
The defense knew how crucial those early stops proved to be.
That was big because that crushes an offense, Jenkins said. Three three-and-outs in a row right at the half. Thats just demoralizing.
As the game wore on, Clemsons offense proved Jenkins to be right. In the sweltering heat, Georgias players noticed Clemson players tiring. The Bulldogs made sure to take advantage.
Thats when we started to rev up some of the pressures. We knew that as the game progressed, they couldnt hang with us, Jenkins said. Some of the offensive guys were saying their defensive guys were getting tired. I think Theus said that (Clemson defensive lineman Vic) Beasley was cramping, some of their defensive guys were giving out. That just made us want to keep fighting more to be the better defense on the field that day.
Georgia, on the other hand, didnt fatigue. With the mass substitutions, players were fresh and ready to contribute at full speed when they were on the field.
Richt said that constant personnel adjustments kept everyone fresh, a game plan his staff hasnt always been brave enough to implement.
Its nice to get a rest physically, but its nice to get a rest mentally, as well. We knew going in we were going to sub a lot, Richt said. I cant tell you how many times over the years were in the meetings saying, Were going to sub; were going to sub, and then you get into the game and we just say, Oh we cant put the second team in. The games too close. But we did it from the very beginning and Im glad Pruitt and the rest of the defensive staff stayed true.