Georgia’s secondary finished the 2015 season ranked first in the nation at only 156.5 yards allowed per game.
But when head coach Kirby Smart took a look at the film, he didn’t see the on-field play match up to the numbers produced. At Alabama, Smart’s defenses typically featured cornerbacks who could excel in man coverage, which would allow for more pressure packages in the front seven.
At Georgia, the defense didn’t have that kind of luxury, even if the numbers suggested otherwise. Smart said former defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, now in the same role at Alabama, covered up some of the unit’s deficiencies with how he utilized them.
"They didn’t put the secondary in a lot of tough situations last year and protected those guys," Smart said during his appearance at the Macon Touchdown Club Spring Jamboree on Monday night.
While Georgia did finish the year with an exceptional average of passing yards allowed, this number was aided with games against Auburn, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech – option based teams that didn’t offer much of a passing threat.
In addition, Georgia had games against Louisiana-Monroe, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Southern and Missouri where the quarterbacks weren’t going to pose much of a passing threat. Kentucky and Florida also didn’t possess consistent passing attacks all season long.
Games against Alabama, Tennessee and Penn State proved to be a different story. The Volunteers did the most damage, with Joshua Dobbs throwing for 312 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 38-31 win. Penn State combined for 281 passing yards in Georgia’s 24-17 TaxSlayer Bowl win, even with starter and soon-to-be NFL draft pick Christian Hackenberg getting injured and knocked out of the game in the first half.
In those three games, Georgia's passing yards allowed averaged climbed to 261.
The Bulldogs do return a large chunk of their secondary, including starting cornerbacks Malkom Parrish and Aaron Davis. Nickel back Rico McGraw and safety Quincy Mauger also bring back a great deal of experience, along with cornerback Juwuan Briscoe. Safety Johnathan Abram elected to transfer to a junior college following Pruitt’s departure.
Smart said the secondary, based on his observations, will need to improve in man coverage for his defense to be able to do what he wants it to do.
"There weren’t a lot of cover guys back there," Smart said. "If we can get where we have better cover guys, we can put pressure more. If we can’t, then we have to be careful on third down. We’ve got to be able to execute and play fast."
Another reason Smart is anxious for Georgia’s secondary to improve is due to what occurred in Alabama’s 45-40 national championship win over Clemson. The Crimson Tide entered the game with one of the best defenses in the country and still surrendered 550 yards of total offense.
On this year’s schedule, Mississippi, Tennessee and Auburn are among the teams that will look to press the tempo in the no-huddle offense, which Georgia’s defense will need to be prepared for. If the corners can lock down receivers, then Smart believes the defense will be able to match the offense’s speed.
"These teams will go tempo on you super-fast – as seen in the national championship game against Clemson," Smart said. "They went hyper-speed. They went super-speed. People want to do that to slow you down and make you predictable. We don’t ever want to be predictable."