As Georgia's defensive players continue to get a handle on Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme, the Bulldog defensive coordinator said his biggest focus entering Saturday night's game at Mississippi State will center around one thing - consistency.
Although Grantham believes his defense has shown positive signs, it's been the inability to eliminate opponent's big plays that continues to haunt the Bulldogs' defensive effort and made this week's film session just a little difficult to watch.
"I think right now we're in a learning curve from the standpoint of what can happen. You can say Hey, you can take a while for this (defense) to work but you can't, these plays are a part of it so the big thing is harping on the consistency of performance," Grantham said. "It's a good example of you can give up a play that can ruin a lot of the good things you did because of the chunks of yards you give up into points. The most important points is points allowed and when you give up explosive plays, you're going to give up points. So, from a learning experience that was the disgust I talked about and I think the big thing is, is just consistency in performance and just continue to saw wood and get better."
Statistically, it's been a mixed bag for the Bulldog D.
Georgia ranks a very respectable third in rushing defense behind South Carolina and LSU giving up an average of 85.3 yards per game, but rank 10th in passing defense (219.7), eighth in scoring defense (18.2) and eighth in total defense (305.0).
But here's the real killer and alludes to one of Grantham's biggest concerns.
The Bulldogs (1-2, 0-2) are dead last in the SEC in pass defense efficiency (139.9) while opponents are converting 38.1 percent on third down, also last in the conference.
Through three games, the Bulldogs have eight sacks which ties Auburn and Ole Miss for fourth in the league.
Justin Houston leads the team with three. But of the eight, none have been from members of the defensive line, who as a group only have only made 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmages for losses of eight yards.
Grantham, however, said the lack of pressure from his down linemen is not a cause for worry.
"No, I wouldn't say cause for concern. Those guys are continuing to work hard and I think they'll come," Grantham said. "I think those guys played the run better last week and showed up so I think now it's just a matter of doing it week in and week out. If you're consistent then the things you're talking about will show up."
But still, Grantham knows his players need to start making plays.
"I believe that if a guy does things in practice, has shown improvement then he earns the right to play some," Grantham said. "As we move forward I think the thing for us to do is play guys who make plays. If that means rotating we'll do that, if it means changing guys up we'll do that."
That includes free safety where Jakar Hamilton and Shawn Williams will continue to share time at free safety for the Bulldogs who face a Mississippi State offense which is based out of the spread head coach Dan Mullen used while serving as the offensive coordinator at Florida.
"They're good. They do a good job of spreading the ball around and they've got some guys who will try to get you in space, so tackling in space is critical so we're going to have to play well, we're going to have to play consistent," Grantham said. "They're a multiple offense and they do enough where you have to work on everything so we're preparing for everything the full package-wise."
The Bulldogs also have to prepare for their first quarterback shuffle of the year.
Junior Chris Relf started last week's game against LSU for MSU, completing 5-of-8 passes for just 35 yards with two picks before leaving after getting hit on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Russell played the rest of the game, and actually led the Bulldogs to their only touchdown despite being intercepted three times himself.
Mullen said that both quarterbacks will play against Georgia, although Relf will start.
"Nothing's changed for us," Mullen said. "Chris is the starter but we will play both like we have all season."
Grantham said his defense will be ready for whichever quarterback is on the field.
"I think you're always aware of personnel, people in the game," he said. "That's part of football because certain people do certain things and saying that, I think both of those guys run their offense so we're going to prepare their offense."
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