Georgia football: Defensive breakdowns vs. LSU an outlier or start of trend?
Georgia’s unbeaten season came crashing down two weeks ago at LSU, and there was plenty of blame to go around. There wasn’t a Bulldog on the roster who looked in the mirror when he got home and told himself he played a great game.
The flop, the major flop, was a total team effort.
Georgia’s defense got plenty of the blame because LSU rolled up 36 points, and they did it with 275 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. They broke four plays of 37 yards or longer, too, which was a massive dagger. Those four plays added up to 193 yards.
The immediate criticism of the defense following the game was that it looked like they weren’t well prepared. Those big plays were all the result of people being out of position, either not knowing where they were supposed to be or not communicating well with their teammates when LSU used even the simplest of motion.
“I want to say 40 percent of their yards gained against our defense were absolutely complete busts on our part,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. Kirby is good at math. Those 193 yards are 40.6 percent of those 475 total yards LSU had. The 275 rushing yards and 475 total yards allowed were both season highs for Georgia. Changes must be made.
“How do we simplify that and make it so those things don’t happen and make teams beat us as opposed to beating ourselves?” Smart questioned. That’s what gets solved during a bye week, and during Florida game week.
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The worst part of “complete busts” is that it makes everyone look bad, players and coaches alike. It looks like a team that didn’t study hard, didn’t watch enough film and weren’t smart enough to understand what was happening when guys were in motion or running paired routes. Poor preparation is a bad tag to carry.
But it’s not the worst.
The biggest slap you can give a quality defense with a lot of pride is to say they quit. On the game, on certain plays when they fell behind, on plays when they got tired.
That criticism came this weekend from no less than Tim Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner and respected voice on college football. He ripped into Georgia’s defense as hard as anyone has in a long, long time, and even singled out lineman Julian Rochester for a lack of effort on national television.
“Look at the effort for LSU vs. this defensive lineman for Georgia,” Tebow said Saturday. ” ‘Uh, I’m jogging, I could have made the play, but I didn’t want any.’ If you’re a Georgia defensive player, that is embarrassing and you’re getting called out. On that play, three players were jogging to the football. Any one of them could have made the tackle. LSU, you weren’t jogging to the football. That’s why you dominated.”
Tebow continued to point out that Georgia defenders were “pulling up on plays,” and the lack of effort was “shocking.” Then he went on to talk about former linebacker Roquan Smith, who was “ferocious” in his effort and said Smith would have never allowed this lack of effort from his teammates.
Now, I always have respected Tebow, but let’s not forget that Saint Timothy is a Florida Gator. It’s in his DNA to be able to rip away at Georgia, and even call them out as loafers. It’s doubtful he would say the same about his beloved Gators, at least not on TV. So we’ll take it with a grain of salt, a little bit at least.
But the said thing is there’s plenty of truth to it, too. Several Georgia players even admitted that they were gassed at the end of the game, and maximum effort on every play just wasn’t possible. A lot of guys were in on 80 plays or more. That’s a lot, especially on a hot day.
Georgia was missing defensive end David Marshall (foot), defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (knee) and nose guard DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle (undisclosed). Their depth was tested — and it failed.
“We’ve played a lot of players this year, and sometimes you can’t do that in games,” Smart said. “Sometimes when people go fast, go hurry-up, they keep the same guys in, and you’ve gotta be able to sustain and play longer as a player, and that’s important for our defensive players.”
Wyatt might return this week but Marshall and Hawkins-Muckle still seem doubtful.
One of the flaws of playing in so many blowouts is that the Bulldogs haven’t been forced to stay on the field for one long drive after another. That’s what happened against LSU, which had almost a 7-minute advantage in time of possession, and that was the first time it happened all season. When you win your first six games by 14 points or more, there’s never a need for defensive linemen to play 10 or 12 plays in a row, and especially not on consecutive drives.
Physically, it became an issue. And that’s never good.
“I think conditioning is a major part,” Smart said Monday. “I don’t know that I would call it effort, lack of effort. I think being conditioned, being able to play 60, 70 snaps in a row, being able to play sustained drives, being able to play back-to-back plays, you can never be good enough at that. You’re always trying to improve. It’s something that we worked hard on last week is how many plays can you play in a row and be at your best. I don’t think it’s a lack of effort.”
The players certainly don’t like hearing that criticism. That’s testing their manhood right there.
“I know people were concerned about that,” Georgia defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter told reporters. “That’s a lot of snaps in a football game. We’re going to get tired. The defensive line, we’re down. We’ve got a couple of guys hurt, banged up and we had some guys get a little banged up in the LSU game.
“We’ve had to come out and fight. It happens, especially later in the season when you’re questioning your depth and what you’re going to do, who you’re going to put in next to replace some of those premier guys you had that were healthy.”
Was that a one-shot deal, or is there more weaknesses to come? We’ll find out soon enough, starting with Florida.