ATHENS, Ga. -- Todd Grantham hopes his defense started to turn a corner when it limited South Carolina to six points in the second half of Georgia's 41-30 win.
Having survived a second straight sloppy outing by making a pair of key second-half defensive stops against the Gamecocks, Saturday's nonconference matchup with North Texas (2-1) provides an opportunity for the No. 9 Bulldogs (1-1) to clean up some of what went wrong against Clemson and South Carolina.
“I think anytime you play well, you get some energy from it, some excitement from it. I think it can carry over,” said Grantham, whose defense ranks 104th nationally in total defense, allowing 460.5 yards per game. “I think the players have done a good job of understanding the things we've got to do to become better and they each understand what they've got to do individually to improve, and that's been the framework of basically last week and a little bit of this week.”
The Bulldogs held a couple of full-contact practices during their open week in an effort to address their shortcomings in perhaps the toughest two-week stretch that any team faced to open the season. They believe they made progress between the 38-35 opening loss at Clemson and the narrow victory against South Carolina the following week, but plenty of kinks remained before they could call themselves an imposing defense.
Among the areas of emphasis on defense:
Tackling more consistently: “I feel tackling got better,” said inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who leads the team with 24 tackles. “It's going to continue to get better because we're putting on pads. Nobody ain't trying to get trucked in practice, so everybody's wrapping up now.”
Taking better angles: Consistent tackling is more than simply wrapping up once you get to the ball carrier, Grantham said. The Bulldogs needed to work on taking the proper routes to the ball in order to properly contain their opponent.
“When you're a young player, sometimes the speed of the game makes that angle get out of kilter a little bit,” Grantham said. “So I think as guys get into the speed of the game, understand the angle at which they've got to come, I think that can help them, too.
“So it wasn't just tackling, it was more your angle and approach to the ball and leverage to the ball to make sure you keep it where your help is and you don't lose your containment or your responsibility. And I actually thought that was something that we needed to work on more so than say tackling a guy to the ground.”
Improved communication: Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said he and his teammates are now doing a better job of relaying calls from the sidelines to the players on the field -- something that was particularly an issue against Clemson. He said communication improved against South Carolina and he noticed at Monday's practice that defensive players were echoing the calls to one another better than ever before.
“That was a key they're working on this week and I feel like we really communicated better than we did in the Clemson game,” Jenkins said. “Clemson was a loud stadium and there were a lot of times where some people just didn't get the call. I feel like in the South Carolina game there was a huge decrease --I feel like a 30- to 40-percent decrease -- in the amount of errors that we had from the Clemson week to the South Carolina week.”
The open week offered an opportunity for the Bulldogs to catch their breath after a grueling two-week stretch to open the season, but the break won't last for long. Following North Texas on the schedule is a visit from No. 6 LSU (3-0) and then the bulk of Georgia's SEC schedule.
Georgia's defense is loaded with young players who knew it might take time to catch on to their expanded roles, but now is the time where to reduce their errors and become a competent unit. Their next break in the schedule won't come until after they visit Vanderbilt five games from now.
“I figured we'd get better with each passing game,” Jenkins insisted. “After those two games, I feel like we definitely came a long way individually and as a unit, as a defense. I feel like that's just how it's going to be for the rest of the season, just each game getting better and better and better. I think by midseason, we'll definitely be one of the better defenses that Georgia's had in the past couple of years.”