By Mark Weiszer, GateHouse Georgia
ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia football put out a video on its social media accounts during its bye week that highlighted the Bulldogs tops in the SEC scoring defense and total defense.
That may be one external message but coach Kirby Smart set a different tone when asked about the stellar statistics the defense has compiled in the first seven games.
Smart was ready to tee off on the question about if the defense is playing as well as those stats look.
“No, not close,” he said. “Extremely sloppy in the last game, and you know, it’s sad, because you guys control the noise. But when you watch that tape, there’s a lot more concern.”
It’s understandable that Smart thinks Georgia will need more from its defense considering the quality of the opponents it has faced en route to a 6-1 record and what lies ahead.
Georgia has faced the three worst SEC teams in both scoring offense and total offense in Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Tennessee, based on statistics entering this weekend. The Volunteers are 110th nationally in scoring, the Wildcats are 114th and the Commodores 120th.
Only one of Georgia’s first seven opponents ranked in the top 45 in scoring offense — No. 13 Notre Dame.
In the next three games the Bulldogs will play three: No. 45 Florida, No. 31 Missouri and No. 23 Auburn.
“The teams we’re going to play in the future are better offensively than the teams we’ve played in the past,” Smart said Thursday night on his radio show. “If we’re not trending upwards and getting better week by week then we can lose a step.”
Georgia is the only team not to allow a rushing touchdown this season, but Auburn will be best rushing team Georgia has seen. The Tigers are 11th nationally.
Arkansas State is the only top 35 passing offense Georgia has gone up against, but the Bulldogs face two more in November in Florida (No. 31) and Texas A&M (No. 35).
Jesse Palmer, the former Florida quarterback, said on ESPN this week that he thinks the Gators have “the most dangerous offense I think they’ve had since 2009,” when Tim Tebow was quarterback.
Quarterback Kyle Trask threw for 200 yards and four touchdowns in their last game against South Carolina and the Gators have a deep group of pass catchers.
“Tackling, gap fits, if you went to a coach and said ‘Watch this game,’ they would come in and say, ‘That is atrocious, tackling, fits, eye discipline, leverage, blockers,’ but walking around, whistling by the graveyard that everything is fine and we’re just OK, and we’ve got good defensive numbers, and that’s not the case when you watch the true integrity of it,” Smart said. “You can’t judge it based on, number one, statistics, you can’t judge it based on a kid playing in the pouring down rain that’s not a quarterback, so, we haven’t been tested in that regard. And we’ve got to get better.”
Tae Crowder, the fifth-year senior starting inside linebacker, gets what Smart is trying to drive home.
“It’s just something dealing with fundamentally, we just want to get back to doing the small things and getting fundamentally sound as a defense,” he said.
Said Smart: “We were very honest with the players. It’s never as good as it seems, which seems to be the theory out there on defense and it’s never as bad it seems, which seems to be the theory out there on offense. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle and when you watch the tape, that’s the case.”
Wildcats quarterback Lynn Bowden, the team’s top receiver, was just 2 of 15 for 17 yards, but rushed for 99 yards and 5.8 yards per carry.
“They’ve got some very big players that are disruptive,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “Obviously, both quarterbacks had a hard time throwing the ball on a sloppy night. With Lynn back there, we had to try to create some eye violations and some things to slow some of their guys down and to give us an advantage. They’re very well-coached and we’re in very good positions in certain things they took away very well. There were other times when some of our guys in particular Lynn made a couple of guys miss, he got some yards, but they’re always tough yards against them.”
They each entered the weekend top four in the nation in scoring and passing offense and top 10 in total offense.