September 13, 2013

The Dashboard


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So, how much do we really knows about the Georgia Bulldogs two games into the 2013 campaign?

Offensively, well, the Bulldogs indeed appear to be all that and your proverbial bag of chips.

Aaron Murray - sans his well-publicized turnovers against Clemson - has been outstanding, while tailback Todd Gurley has been, well - A Man.

We'll delve more into the talent that is Gurley in the days to come, but as far as descriptions go, "Man" seems to be the most apropos.

Defensively, yes, there's been some angst and it's easy to understand why.

Giving up 38 and 30 points, respectively, is never a good proposition. But honestly, who here is truly surprised?

Head coach Mark Richt didn't seem to be.

"We've played two really good teams, two very good offensive football teams and like you say, we're still trying to figure it out as a group," Richt said. "Some guys have got it figured out better than others and some guys are still struggling just to line up right. It will take time."

But how much?

Let's examine the situation a bit more closely.

As poorly as Georgia's veteran-laden defense played down the stretch last year, to somehow project a group made up largely of young, unproven players to automatically improve overnight and stuff the likes of Clemson and South Carolina … was everyone truly expecting that?

If you look at the Bulldogs' remaining SEC schedule, both Tajh Boyd of Clemson and Connor Shaw of South Carolina have started more games than any quarterback Georgia will see in conference play the rest of the year. In other words, for as inexperienced as the Bulldogs' defense was (is) coming into the season, it's not a surprise that two of the best teams and most experienced quarterbacks on their schedule would have some measure of success.

At the same time, improvements obviously have to be made.

Amarlo Herrera didn't pull any punches when he said Tuesday that Georgia's defense has to get better if it wants to win a championship, SEC or otherwise. He's right about that.

Opponents have rushed for over 200 yards against the Bulldogs five times in the last six games and the one that didn't - Clemson - ran for 197.

Getting a handle on that is Job 1 for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and his staff, who at some point are going to HAVE to figure out a way to slow opposing teams down on the ground.

Can they get better?

I think they will.

Again, there's a lot of young players on the defensive line still getting adjusted to what's going on.

Sterling Bailey has been a pleasant surprise, and along with Garrison Smith and Ray Drew were the three starters against South Carolina.

Mike Thornton is seeing extensive PT for the first time, but for the Bulldog defensive line to reach its potential, three youngsters/newcomers will need to play key roles.

That includes youngsters like freshman John Taylor, who has already begun to see more reps, along with defensive Toby Johnson and junior college transfer Chris Mayes, who has yet to play after suffering a concussion in preseason camp.

As far as the secondary is concerned, Tray Matthews and Brendan Langley are going to be fine.

Yes, Langley was in coverage for both South Carolina's touchdown passes last week and looked bad in getting beat, but Grantham is adamant that the former Kell standout is the best option.

It is somewhat surprising that sophomore Sheldon Dawson hasn't figured more into a mix based on some scrimmages where he intercepted multiple passes, but it's quite obvious that Langley is Grantham's guy.

Matthews, meanwhile, took a couple of bad angles in last Saturday's game, but remember - he probably was only 100 percent for seven days of preseason camp.

While there's no doubt that opposing teams will continue to target the pair, both have too much talent for them not to be on the field.

So where does this youth leave the Bulldog defense for the rest of the year?

Georgia will continue to be challenged, but like most young defenses, the more games they play the better they should get.

We started to see some signs against the Gamecocks after Georgia limited South Carolina to six second-half points and came through with a key fourth-down stand.

While it's still probably not fair to consistently expect those kind of results in every game the rest of the year, it's not unreasonable to expect improvement as we work through the 2013 campaign.

How much so will ultimately where the Bulldogs find themselves standing at the season's end.

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