ATHENS - Georgia's defense was set to be the backbone of the team, but so far it's been surprisingly uneven. Through three games, two of them against pretty weak foes, Georgia has yielded just over 20 points a game and ranks 42nd in the nation in total defense - a year after finishing fifth.
That comes with some asterisks, the most important being that the team has been without at least three key starters in every game, because of injury or suspension.
Still, freshman linebacker Jordan Jenkins said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had some blunt words for his players after Saturday's game.
"He cussed us out for a little bit," Jenkins said. "Coming in, he went straight towards the DBs and started cussing them out for a little bit. Then he progressed his way to the linebackers. Then he just cussed out the whole defense for a little bit."
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Senior defensive back Sanders Commings also admitted to a bit of concern.
"We're definitely a little frustrated right now with the way we're playing," Comming said. "But all we can do is keep practicing hard and keep playing better, and eventually those numbers we put up last year, we'll get back to that."
Commings' absence in the first two games could have been part of the problem. His return for Florida Atlantic game could have bolstered the secondary, as he moved to safety in place of the suspended Bacarri Rambo. But FAU, which only put seven points on Wagner, still managed a couple first-half touchdowns.
"Us missing a couple guys could have a lot to do with it," Commings said. "The two guys that aren't back yet, Rambo and (Alec) Ogletree, they definitely are top guys on our defense. The other part to it is we're not - the first quarter we're just struggling. The first half, really. We need to just come out and execute our gameplan. It's not like teams are just overpowering us or out-physicaling us. It's that we're blowing assignments and not filling the gap."
Some other notes after head coach Mark Richt's press conference on Tuesday:
- The health of guard Dallas Lee (sprained ankle) remains uncertain. If Lee can't go, Richt said the Bulldogs would likely start Mark Beard at left tackle and move Kenarious Gates to left guard - as the team did when Lee went down against FAU.
“We’re not certain of that yet," Richt cautioned. "I don’t know how much he’ll (Lee) go today. He may not go at all today; we’ll just have to wait and see what he does. My guess is we would start with that same lineup that we finished the game with.”
The team is also hoping to get sophomore Watts Dantzler (sprained ankle) back this week. Dantzler was the sixth man on the offensive line, repping at tackle and guard, before he got hurt in the season opener.
“Watts is getting there. He has a chance this week," Richt said. "I don’t know how much he’ll do this week, but he has a chance.”
- Malcolm Mitchell will start doing more on offense, and perhaps even participate in offensive meetings. But Richt still isn't laying out an exact plan for the receiver-cornerback.
“Malcolm will definitely stay with the defense as far as being ready to play," Richt said. "I imagine he will still play. His offensive reps will increase, and he’ll probably start to spend some meeting time with the offense as well. I’m thinking about trying to find a way to split time with him if he can manage it. We think it can work for us. He’s a guy who I think is in good enough condition. I know he’s smart enough to understand what’s going on on both sides of the ball with the experience he’s had. We need him on special teams too. He’s going to play offense, defense and special teams off and on for the rest of the year I would think.”
- There still isn't any clear separation between the top three tailbacks.
“I’m pleased with Todd (Gurley), Keith (Marshall) and (Ken) Malcome," Richt said. "I think we have a good battery of backs. Everybody is staying healthy, everybody is being productive, everybody is staying fresh. That’s a good thing. I’m not saying any given day one of those three might get a bunch of carries. It could happen, but I like how we are rotating them right now.”
And what about senior Richard Samuel, who didn't get any carries on Saturday?
“He still plays both positions – fullback and tailback. He just didn’t get any reps the last game,” Richt said.