ATHENS -- Mark Richt noticed a clear difference after only one year.
Coming out of the spring, Richt said Georgia’s defense looked like a completely different unit as it continued preparing for year two under defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
“A lot smoother,” Richt said. “A lot less, I don’t know if the word is ‘frustration’ but just, wanting them to get it, trying to be patient with them to get it. It didn’t take as much time for guys to line up right and do the most basic things.”
Richt’s players agreed.
None of the veterans are asking questions about the simple aspects of Pruitt’s scheme anymore. When players organized their own 7-on-7 practices in the summer, multiple defenders said they didn’t need to think twice about what was going on.
The 2014 season started rocky with 38 points surrendered to South Carolina and 32 points allowed against Tennessee. Slowly, improvements were made. Georgia blanked SEC East champ Missouri on the road.
Although the Bulldogs gave up 32 points to Arkansas, the Razorbacks only had seven on the board at halftime. Georgia held Auburn to only one touchdown in a 34-7 win and limited Louisville to only two touchdowns in a Belk Bowl win.
Losses to Florida and Georgia Tech showed the defense was still a work in progress, with Georgia allowing both teams to average 408.5 rushing yards between them.
“There were some times last year where we played the way we wanted to play,” Pruitt said. “There were some times in the year we were like a roller coaster. We have to fix that. We want to focus on us. It’s about us and I think we understand that.”
Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins credited Pruitt with his own personal development, which led to 70 tackles, 23 quarterback hurries and five sacks a year ago. Jenkins, already an established pass-rusher, said Pruitt also helped him improve his pass coverage.
“He knows how to find whatever way a player needs to be coached and find ways to implement ways to get them to understand the system and become a better player,” Jenkins said.
Pruitt threw sophomore defensive back Dominick Sanders into the fire and asked him to learn the defense on the go. While Sanders finished the year with three interceptions, he acknowledged how much of a difference he feels under Pruitt’s tutelage in his second season.
“I’m more comfortable, more relaxed. Not panicking, not feeling rushed,” Sanders said.
Pruitt’s success as a defensive coordinator came early when he fielded a unit that contributed to a national championship at Florida State in 2013. Sure, the Seminoles had Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston throwing the ball, but that defense held opponents to only 12.1 points per game.
“Having a year under Coach Pruitt, we’re able to learn the defense a whole lot quicker,” Bailey said. “We don’t have to take any kind of steps back and can move forward because we really didn’t lose that much on our defense. There won’t be any slow learning. Everything is going to be fast-paced.”
Pruitt said part of his coaching philosophy is breaking down what each player needs to do before implementing the scheme. That goes back to his days as a high school football coach, where fundamentals are on the forefront of teaching football.
“I think he understands that it’s very important to be sound in what you do and execute what you call,” Richt said. “You don’t necessarily have to trick people. If you’re sound in your scheme and you do it extremely well and play really hard and are physical with an attitude, you can play really good defense that way.”