Four games into the season and the defensive numbers are starting to add up for the Georgia Bulldogs - in a good way.
Through four games, the Bulldogs (2-2, 1-1) head into Saturday's game against Mississippi State (2-2, 0-2) ranked 15th nationally in total defense, allowing just an average of 270 yards per game.
The 119.5 rushing yards surrendered by Todd Grantham's squad is sixth-best in the country, but it's the job Georgia is doing on holding opponents on third down that's getting most of the attention from head coach Mark Richt.
A year ago, Georgia finished dead-last in the SEC in that particular category, as Bulldog foes converted an average of 41.9 percent of third downs (72 of 172).
This year, the numbers are much better.
Georgia opponents are converting a mere 25 percent of their third downs (14 of 25), second-best in the SEC behind Florida, which is allowing a success rate of just 21.2 percent (11 of 52).
"We really felt like we were going to improve," Richt said during his Sunday teleconference with reporters. " We felt we were going to be a lot better, just for the fact everybody understood what to do a little bit better and understood their techniques, and their trade instead of trying to figure out what to do."
Richt gives Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith an assist when it comes to the Bulldogs' new found success.
"We repped it more in the preseason; we did a better job I think. But basically, I spent some time with Mike Smith and that was what part of the trip was about, just to make sure we're hitting the right amount of third-and-medium, third-and-short, third and long, red zone, all these different one-minute opportunities, all the things that happen throughout the ball game, are we truly hitting it at the percentage that it happens in the game and were we doing that in practice," Richt said. "I found out we were probably a little bit short of the time spent with some third-down situations and some red zone situations, so we ramped that up a little bit more. But I just think we're better at playing it, too."
Experience, Richt said, certainly counts for something.
Especially, he said, when it comes to the defensive line, which had its best game of the year Saturday at Ole Miss.
"Last year we were playing guys who had not played a lot, because we had all those five senior defensive linemen who were getting so much work, so although those guys were preparing for action, last year was really the first time for Abry Jones and DeAngelo Tyson out there getting work," Richt said. "So now, they are more mature. Abry's playing good. DeAngelo is playing well. Garrison Smith had a really fine game up front. We like what Kwame (Geathers) is doing, we like what (Jonathan) Jenkins is doing. We're playing better up front, we're stopping the run. All the traditional runs we've stopped pretty well, meaning the zones and the powers, the normal kind of runs. The runs which have gotten us are the reverses and some Wildcat stuff, nothing super long."
NOTES: Richt says he hopes that linebacker Christian Robinson (foot) will be able to return this week against Mississippi State. "We're hoping Christian can play this week. There's a chance that he can play this week. Amarlo played well enough where we're getting more comfortable with him being out there and Michael Gilliard is really taking advantage of his opportunity and playing well," Richt said. "So I don't know that even if Christian is able to play, if he'll be able to practice every practice or be 100 percent or not. We're going to continue on like we are right now and when Christian inserts when he does, we'll decide if he's going to start or not."
Richt was also asked about the inclusion of Texas A&M into the SEC. "You would think they'd be at least another one joining somewhere along the way. It's going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out in the end. Life is changing as we know it around college football. It's happened before," he said. "There may be a massive movement around the country, I don't know how it's going to end up, but it is certainly interesting what is happening in our league."
Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]