Georgia defense shows encouraging signs
They got off to a slow start, but halftime adjustments stymied the Clemson offense in the second half.
Clemson’s quarterback combination of Cole Stoudt and true freshman, and Georgia native, Deshaun Watson provided problems for the Bulldog defense, putting up all of its 21 points in the first half. Stoudt led the Tigers on a 12-play, 70-yard drive to open the game, converting on a fourth-and-short for the touchdown. Watson came in early in the second quarter and impressed, throwing a beautiful touchdown strike in double coverage.
Head coach Mark Richt thought defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s halftime adjustments were a key difference in the game.
“Defensively in the second half, we took a little pressure off our corners by not playing as much man coverage,” Richt said after the game. “We challenged our men inside to keep them from running the football and we got a lot of good stuff. Jeremy (Pruitt) did a good job making the change. (Leonard) Floyd and (Jordan) Jenkins on the edge are formidable guys, and our inside linebackers played well for the most part. They moved the ball some on us, but after a while, we shut them down as well.”
The Bulldogs struggled in the first half against the run and the secondary had trouble locating the ball. However, it will not be a bevy of first-half mistakes that will be remembered, but two scoreless quarters that led to a Georgia rout.
The Tigers gained 276 yards in the first half on 54 plays, and looked like they hadn’t missed a beat in Chad Morris’ system after losing Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Zac Brooks and Martavis Bryant.
After the break, Clemson managed just 15 yards on 22 plays and one first down. Pruitt disguised schemes and dialed up chaotic blitzes that confused the Tigers offensively. He moved Floyd and Jenkins around the front seven with them blitzing on occasion and dropping into coverage.
The Bulldogs were much more sound fundamentally on Saturday night. Tackling in the open field, gap assignment and communication in the secondary all were improved over a season ago. Pruitt has referred to himself as an educator that teaches fundamentals often, and we saw the Georgia defense as a unit improve.
It was assignment football, though, that shut down one of the best offenses in the country last night.
“Everybody just has to do their assignments,” safety Corey Moore told media postgame. “We had a few hiccups in the first half but we looked past it and communicated better and played our game and executed.”
It’s only week one, but Pruitt will construct an SEC Championship-calibar defense.