Georgia coach Kirby Smart had an interesting way of describing the Bulldogs’ objective during this off week.
“We’re all trying to get to the doctor right now,” he said.
That includes Georgia's vaunted defense, which has posted some sparkling stats through the season's first seven games. The No. 10-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 3-1 SEC) are ranked in the top 10 nationally in almost every significant defensive category heading into the showdown with No. 7 Florida on Nov. 2 in Jacksonville.
But Smart scrutinizes defense closer than most, and he’s thoroughly unimpressed. Asked if the Bulldogs were playing as well as the numbers would indicate on that side of the ball, he responded with an emphatic “No!”
“Not even close,” he said after the Bulldogs’ two-hour practice Tuesday. “Extremely sloppy in the last game. And, you know, it’s sad. … When you watch that tape, there’s a lot more concern. Tackling, gap-fits. If you went to a coach and said, ‘watch this game,’ they’d come in and say that is atrocious.’ ”
That evaluation belies Georgia’s statistical profile. Through seven games, the Bulldogs’ defense leads the SEC and is ranked among the nation’s elite in scoring (4th, 10.6 points per game), rushing allowed (5th, 85.9 yards per game), total defense (6th, 266.7 yards per game) and yards per play (9th, 4.32). UGA is also second in the league and 18th nationally in passing yards allowed (181).
Georgia also remains the only team in the country that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown in 2019.
The Bulldogs held Kentucky to 177 total yards in a 21-0 win Saturday, their second shutout of the season
Afterward, safety Richard LeCounte said, “we definitely feel like we're on track.”
But the Wildcats were playing in a raging downpour with a converted wide receiver at quarterback in Lynn Bowden. The fact is, Georgia has faced very few elite quarterbacks so far. Notre Dame’s Ian Book is the only opposing quarterback that might be considered among college football’s more gifted players at that position.
Since then, the Bulldogs faced a freshman making his first start in Tennessee’s Brian Maurer and second- and third-stringers in Ryan Hilinski and Dakereon Joyner in a loss to South Carolina. Then, Bowden.
And Georgia won’t be facing Florida’s best quarterback either. Starter Feleipe Franks was lost for the season because of a dislocation fracture in one of his ankles in a week 3 game against Kentucky. The Gators have been going with career backup Kyle Trask since then.
But Trask has played well and some even believe he is a better option than Franks. The 6-foot-5, 239-pound junior from Manvel, Texas, has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 1,391 yards and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions in the five games since. Trask had 310 yards and three touchdowns and an interception in the Gators’ only loss, 42-28 to now No. 2 LSU.
But Smart said the Bulldogs aren’t even working on Florida’s offense yet.
“It’s single-minded focus on us,” he said.
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Smart said those gaudy stats have hidden defensive flaws for the Bulldogs. Asked what they were, he launched into litany of coaching jargon.
“Tackling, fits, eye-discipline, leverage, blockers,” Smart said. “But we’re walking around, whistling by the graveyard that ‘everything’s fine, that we’re OK.’ We have good defensive numbers, but that’s not the case when you watch the true integrity of it. You can’t judge it based on statistics, you can’t judge it based on a kid playing in the pouring-down rain that’s not a quarterback. We haven’t been tested in that regard.
“We’ve got to get better and that’s what we’re doing this week.”