Bulldogs Beat

Georgia’s defense has its ups, downs

ATHENS -- The stats say that Georgia’s defense has been the fifth-best in the SEC this season and the 21st-best in the nation. The reality, however, is a lot more complicated.

Some games, or for some smaller window, the Bulldogs have looked like a great defense. That was the case last Saturday against Auburn, heretofore one of the best offenses in the country. It was also the case in the second half against Clemson, and the entire game against Missouri, the SEC East leader.

But in other games, the Bulldogs have struggled immensely. The Florida game stands out, as does the South Carolina loss. Another game (Tennessee) was essentially saved by the offense.

“We could easily be ­undefeated right now,” senior cornerback Damian Swann said. “We let two games get away that I think we shouldn’t have lost. That just goes back to being consistent every week. Playing the right style of football every week. You have to do that every week in this conference if you want to be dominant, and we didn’t do that. So now we have our fate in someone else’s hands, and hopefully it’ll work in our favor.”

But they have to wait for Missouri, a team that Georgia shut out, to lose.

“It’s very frustrating, but it’s our fault,” Swann said.

There is no trend line to the defense’s struggles. It went from great in the second half against Clemson to struggling the next game against South Carolina. It shut out Missouri, and two weeks later it was gashed by Florida, then two weeks later shut down Auburn.

The quality of opponents and the matchups don’t seem to matter, either. Auburn is the best offense Georgia has faced this season, while Florida ranks 91st in the country. Georgia’s pass defense was the culprit in the loss at South Carolina, and it was the run defense that was gashed in the loss to Florida.

Georgia’s offense has been fairly consistent all season. Its lowest scoring output of the season was 20, against Florida, with 34 points being the second-lowest. The lowest yardage output of the season has been 379, in the win over Missouri.

The defense, however, has been all over the place: Four games giving up more than 400 yards, including the two losses; four games giving up fewer than 300, including just 147 in the shutout of Missouri. And even within games there have been disparate performances, especially the first and second halves against Clemson and Arkansas.

“We executed better (against) Auburn,” Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. “We’ve pretty much had the same calls, played the same defenses all year. A lot of times, it’s not as bad as you think it is and it’s not as good as you think it is.”

Pruitt, the first-year defensive coordinator, didn’t sound surprised this week when asked about the inconsistency. He harkened back to the 2011 Alabama team, which he called one of the best defensive teams in the history of college football. But even then, they allowed Georgia Southern to rush for 386 yards.

“You’re still talking about 18-to-22 year-old guys, that they’ve gotta make the decision each Saturday or each week how they’re going to prepare, what’s their focus,” Pruitt said.