“A defensive lineman or linebacker can make a mistake now and then, but defensive backs can’t,” secondary coach Willie Martinez said. “That’s the position. That’s the nature of the beast.”
The No. 12 Bulldogs’ defensive backs have taken lots of criticism for a handful of very noticeable foul-ups in the team’s 19-14 loss to Tennessee on Saturday. The two biggest came on the Volunteers’ opening drive as Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC) blew two simple coverages on the way to allowing a Tennessee touchdown.
“We did some things that were very uncharacteristic of us,” said Coach Mark Richt.
Safeties Thomas Davis and Greg Blue drew a lot of the fans’ ire for supposedly being more preoccupied with supporting the running game and making big hits rather than covering their pass responsibilities, but Richt flatly dismissed that theory. Davis and Blue led the Bulldogs with 10 tackles and eight tackles, respectively.
Richt pointed out that the two big plays on Tennessee’s first drive, a 39-yard completion to convert a third-and-11 and a 22-yard touchdown pass on third-and-nine, came in obvious pass situations.
Davis, a junior All-America candidate, obviously had heard some of the criticism by Monday afternoon.
“If that’s the way they feel, so be it,” he said. “As a team, we know what happened. If they want to make accusations, let them do it. We’ve been playing well enough to win, that’s how I feel about it.”
While Davis is correct, safety Tra Battle, a graduate of Mary Persons High School, acknowledged that the two early foul-ups were due to overaggression. In both cases, a safety -- first Davis and then Battle -- bit on a short route and allowed a receiver to catch a pass behind him.
“Overall, I think we’ve played pretty well, but being in the secondary is the most high-pressure position on the field,” said Battle, who is a starter in the team’s nickel package. “When we make mistakes, they really show. Overall, we’ve done really well, but the mistakes we’ve made have been crucial.”
Georgia is ninth in the SEC in passing efficiency defense, which Martinez said is one of the statistics the coaches look at most closely.
Tennessee rushed 47 times and passed 22 times, but it did most of its damage with the passing game. On their four scoring drives, the Volunteers gained more than half their yards (96 of 184) and converted three third downs and two fourth downs with passing plays.
The Volunteers were coming off a horrific passing game against Auburn. The Tigers picked off five passes from the Vols’ freshman quarterbacks, and the Bulldogs didn’t expect Tennessee to use so many passing formations in crucial situations as they did, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said.
“As much as they did of it, we were a little surprised by that,” he said. “We didn’t put as much time into those sets.”
What bothered Richt most about the Tennessee game was that the blown coverages came on the most basic of calls, he said. One was a two-deep zone, the other a three-deep zone.
“That first series there were defensively some things that just should not have happened,” he said, “but I have confidence in these guys that we will rebound.”