Short-handed defense adjusts again

ATHENS, Ga. -- If Todd Grantham has proven anything in Georgia’s last three games, it’s that he is a pro at making halftime adjustments. Of course, the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator hopes his charges will improve to the point that those adjustments won’t be such a necessity.

On top of still-suspended stars Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree, the Bulldogs were also without injured All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones for Saturday night’s game against Florida Atlantic. And Jones’ absence was noticeable, as the Owls scored on back-to-back possessions between the first and second quarters before the Bulldogs finally began to pull away.

“We got them to third down a good bit, but we couldn’t get them off the field,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose defense allowed Florida Atlantic to convert on eight of 12 third-down chances in the first half. “Guys like Jarvis get you off of the field. Obviously we’ve seen that with him. So I think it affected us.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if Jarvis played, I think we’d have been more productive when it came to pressuring the passer and knowing Jarvis, he probably would’ve gotten a sack or two just because he’s Jarvis.”

Georgia played without five starters in the opener against Buffalo and four starters in its Week 2 win against Missouri, so adaptation is quickly becoming a learned skill among the defensive replacements. Among them, true freshman Jordan Jenkins started in Jones’ absence and another true freshman, Josh Dawson, received his heaviest workload yet, tying for the team lead with 1.5 tackles for a loss.

“It’s the same thing as with everybody else. The young guys, Jordan and Josh, they got to step up and they know what they have on their plate,” said sophomore linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who made seven tackles in place of Ogletree against FAU and returned a third-quarter interception 35 yards for a touchdown.

In fact, Grantham believes the consistent reshuffling will be beneficial once the injured and suspended players return to the lineup.

Outside linebacker Chase Vasser -- suspended for the first two games -- provided an example of exactly Grantham’s point Saturday when he forced a fumble on his very first play of the season.

“I’ve always had a phrase that injury creates depth,” Grantham said. “… I do think it forces you to play guys and it does allow you to create some depth, which I think is a good thing as the season goes along.”

Jones played with an injured groin last week against Missouri and forced two fourth-quarter turnovers that helped the Bulldogs pull away for a tough road victory. As he and his teammates left the locker room, Jones shrugged and said, “I could’ve,” when asked if he could have toughed it out and played against FAU.

But he and injured defensive end Cornelius Washington -- who played briefly after struggling all week with a hamstring injury suffered against Missouri -- were not necessary as the Bulldogs finally began to pull away in the second half.

Even without the numerous missing veterans, the Bulldogs surrendered only 55 yards in the second half and forced five three-and-outs plus Herrera’s pick six and a turnover on downs.

This after the Bulldogs gave up 263 yards in the first two quarters alone and allowed the Owls to score their first points in the first half this season.

“I was concerned, yeah,” Richt admitted. “They were legitimately taking that ball and moving it right down the field.”

But Grantham pointed to the inexperience on the field for the early rocky moments and said he was pleased with how the youngsters adapted as the game progressed -- continuing the season’s trend.

After struggling early against Buffalo, Georgia allowed 103 yards and just seven points in the second half. A week ago against Missouri, the Bulldogs closed the game on a 24-0 run -- forcing two turnovers on downs, a punt, a fumble and an interception to pull away in the fourth quarter. And then came yet another strong finish against Florida Atlantic.

“With new guys, they need to see things to play good,” Grantham said. “I think that if you kind of look at our trend, our guys do a really good job of coming over and saying, ‘All right, here’s what they’re doing and here’s the things we’ve got to play. Here’s what we’ve got to do.’

“To the guys’ credit, if you kind of look at our trend, those guys have done that. They’ve executed, they’ve performed and really in the second half, they played the way I expected them to play.”