It was evident in the moment and later when watching the film: Georgia did not do too good of a job tackling Auburn’s skill position players in Saturday’s 40-17 loss.
The Bulldogs’ strength on defense has been against the run. Yet Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson got loose repeatedly for 167 yards on 32 carries. It was an uncharacteristic performance based on what Georgia put on the field in its first nine games.
Defensive tackle John Atkins agreed that he, along with his teammates, had a tough day tackling, saying he missed more than usual.
“I did,” Atkins said. “(Johnson) is a great running back.”
Georgia’s lack of tackling was a stunning development for a defense that has done its part to take away one facet of the opposition’s offense in every previous game. But this was something head coach Kirby Smart said was concerning entering the week. When watching the previous game’s film over the past few weeks, Smart said there were too many instances where players would miss a tackle in the open field.
While Georgia was able to gang tackle its opponents, Smart said the one-on-one situations were concerning. He noted his team hasn’t been tackling in this area at a high enough rate.
“You measure tackling by how many one-on-one situations you get in and how many of those you win,” Smart said. “Typically, our ratio has been the same all year. It has not been real good. People measure things differently. When there’s two guys standing there to tackle a guy and one of them makes it, it’s a whole lot different than a one-on-one situation. We lost a lot of one-on-one situations but we lost a lot of one-on-one situations throughout the year."
Against Auburn, Atkins said the Georgia defense did not do a good job in the fundamentals department. Johnson was able to drive through holes and didn’t get pushed back on contact all too much.
The Bulldogs were also pushed back by an offensive line that was able to create a lot of holes for Johnson to run through. Facing a run-heavy Kentucky team, Georgia will need this area to improve over the week.
“We didn’t strike,” Atkins said. “They out-physicaled us a lot.”
The Wildcats are led by running back Benny Snell, who has run for 1,015 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Snell is a power back who did a good job of breaking through tackles in Georgia’s 27-24 win over Kentucky last season. Snell rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the Georgia victory.
“They have some good backs, so we have to improve in that area,” Smart said. “That has been the case all year long. The good thing is we get to practice against some pretty good backs in our practices. We get to thud them, we do not get to tackle them, but we have to do a better job for sure.”