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As expected, Sunday's teleconference with Georgia head coach Mark Richt featured a defensive-heavy theme.
After giving up 30 or more points for the fifth time in six games, Richt spent approximately 15 minutes fielding questions about some of those issues and what he hopes to have corrected before Saturday's game at Vanderbilt (noon, CBS).
Included were several about the Bulldog secondary, which rotated very little against the Tigers.
Granted, safety Tray Matthews was still out nursing an injured hamstring, but cornerbacks Shaq Wiggins and Damian Swann played the entire game, Quincy Mauger and Corey Moore at safety, with Josh Harvey-Clemons at star. Freshman Brendan Langley did not play at all, at least according to the post-game participation chart.
"Langley has been playing for us, and he's been doing a good job, but Shaq has been doing a good job in the playing time he got the week before, and as you saw, he's playing very well," Richt said. "That was part of it. When we get into the package where we have an extra DB in the game, Josh Harvey-Clemons has been in that position at the star, so we've had that with two safeties and two corners and didn't have many three-corner sets. That's part of the reason why."
When asked if he felt the need to perhaps give other players a try, Richt said that's not as simple as it may sound.
"We always do compete and we try to make a determination at the end of the week who should play and how much time they should get to try and get the people in there. But you've got to be careful not to try and change too much, or you won't have any continuity," Richt explained. "What happens if you get a guy who is going through some growing pains and you decide to make a chance with a new guy, so he's got to go through his growing pains as well. Before you know it, you've got no continuity at all. We're not in any kind of position where we feel we've got to make a bunch of whole-sale changes right now."
Richt was also asked specifically about sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson, whose only real action this fall has been on special teams.
Apparently, the Memphis native still isn't quite ready to join the fray.
"It is basically the same answer
that we practice, we evaluate and we make decisions. We actually had a plan to get him in the game in the red zone area to match up with some of their bigger receivers," Richt said. "A lot of the bombs they had that involved going to the end zone were from a distance, not the short throws because they had a tendency to throw those jump balls when they got in the Red Zone. We were going to try to get him in for those situations. But he's practicing, he's getting better, he's certainly been helping us a lot on special teams."
The defense's inability to force turnovers also remains a big point of concern.
Through six games, the Bulldogs have only come away with five takeaways (four fumbles, one interception). In Georgia's losses to Clemson and Missouri, the Bulldogs lost the turnover battle by a combined margin of 6-1, including 4-0 in Saturday's 41-26 loss.
"I think little by little they get more comfortable and little by little they begin to make plays. Now, they're just trying to break up a ball instead of pick off a ball. We're getting a good many sacks, but even when you get sacks you get the ball out every once in a while with that quarterback," Richt said. "I think our guys are trying to get the sack, but not thinking 'Hey, while I'm back there, let me try to get the ball out of there.'"
Richt admits the lack of turnovers is frustrating.
"It is, obviously. You look at the two games we lost it was because we lost the turnover ratio. There's a chance if we break even in turnovers we win both of those. When you turn it over, it's very, very difficult to win and when you don't win the turnover ratio," Richt said. "We've got to continue to get serious
we already are serious
but we've got to keep working hard with everybody on securing the ball, make good decisions with the ball and continue to try and play good enough defense to force some bad throws, make the pick, cause the fumble, whatever it may be. We work drills, we work drills till we're blue in the face, but we've got to do it in the heat of the battle."
NOTES: Saturday's loss dropped the Bulldogs to No. 15 in the Associated Press and No. 16 in the USA Today/Coaches Top 25 polls.
Richt said that wide Jonathon Rumph (hamstring) will resume practice Monday for the Bulldogs with hopes of playing Saturday. Richt did not know whether or not running back Todd Gurley or Matthews would be able to resume workouts Monday, or later in the week.
When asked if Gurley's ankle injury was a high-ankle sprain, Richt declined to comment, only to say "He's real close."
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