Todd Grantham is not a man who gives much to the media. In his four years as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, Grantham has tended toward generalities, and when things have gone wrong -- as they have lately -- he rarely points fingers. Either at his players or himself.
So what should Grantham be saying now, with so much blame being pinned on his defense? If I were Grantham, here’s what I’d say:
Dear Georgia fans:
The next two games will see me visit the two places at which I showed the fire that made you fall in love with me. OK, I’m not proud of that whole choke-sign thing in 2010 against Florida, but I don’t regret shouting at Vanderbilt’s James Franklin two years ago. I was defending my players. And I’m here to defend them again.
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This is on me.
These struggles the first six games. These yards. These points. They’re on me.
Yes, we’re a young defense. The term “growing pains” gets mentioned so much around here you’d think Kirk Cameron and Robin Thicke’s dad were coaching our secondary. Sometimes it looks like they are.
But I recruited these players. I coach them, and I decide whether to play them. I decide whether to blitz or play the run. The responsibility is mine.
Does my $850,000-per year salary seem a bit steep this year? Maybe, but look, I didn’t ask for that money. Well, my agent did, but whatever. I realize that when you’re on track to give up the most points in Georgia history, as we are now, that the contract is going to be brought up. That, and my dalliance with the New Orleans Saints. Look, it was a chance to make a step up in the profession, so you can’t blame me -- my bosses didn’t -- but fine, that’s fair game too.
But now that I’ve taken responsibility, let me also defend my boys a bit. Let me defend my defense.
The NCAA has this stat called pass efficiency rating. Well, guess what, we’ve faced three of the top 10 this season: Zach Mettenberger (4), Connor Shaw (7), Tajh Boyd (8). And James Franklin is No. 22.
The guy we face Saturday, Vanderbilt’s Austyn Carta-Samuels, is No. 27. I guess that’s progress. But I’m really hoping we don’t make him look as good as we made Tennessee’s Justin Worley.
I could point out that the attrition from two years ago hurt us. Chris Sanders would probably be one of our starting safeties and Nick Marshall one of our starting cornerbacks if not for being dismissed after their freshmen years. I also wouldn’t have minded having Jordan Love as a fifth-year senior, rather than him transferring.
Of course that doesn’t explain Damian Swann. He was supposed to be the rock of our secondary. Our main worry with him was he’d have such a good year he’d go pro. Yeah, we’re not worried about that right now.
And what’s the deal with Jordan Jenkins? You tell me. The first four games he just had bad luck, pressuring the quarterback a lot but only getting one sack. But the past two games he has taken a step back. His run defense wasn’t great at Tennessee, and we actually had him on the bench for some long stretches against Missouri.
Still, Georgia fans, there are glimmers of hope.
Ray Drew is the crock pot paying off. Shaq Wiggins looks like a keeper, and I love the way he plays. We need someone on defense who is aggressive, and Wiggins is just that. It’s what I hope Tray Matthews is when he gets back.
Oh, and that defensive line in general has been solid, especially against the run. Teams aren’t running all over us. Part of the reason our problem is on third down is because we’re so good on first and second down.
I see that Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel got in a little dig Monday when asked about all of our team’s injuries: “They didn’t have many injuries on defense.” Fair enough, even though Matthews wasn’t out there. I could also point out that my defense won the game last year at Missouri. But I won’t.
Look, I’m not happy about our stats and our rankings. They should be better. But really, what did we all expect?
Back in the preseason, a very smart beat writer -- I might hire him to ghost write a column some time --wrote this: “I do think you might need to temper expectations a bit on the defense. There is talent and depth there, but with all the youth and inexperience, there’s likely to be some games where it gets ugly.”
Oh, it got ugly.
So what’s my point? It’s this: We’ve only played half a season, and the second half schedule is much easier. When this season ends, we won’t rank in the bottom 30 nationally in scoring defense, and we won’t rank in the bottom half in yards. We’re going to get better.
And if we’re not, it’s on me. Really.
Seth Emerson is The Telegraph’s Georgia beat writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.