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The ball just gets by the finger tips of Georgia Bulldogs defensive backs Malaki Starks (24) as LSU Tigers wide receiver Malik Nabers (8) catches a 34-yard touchdown against Starks and Kelee Ringo (5) during the third quarter of the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, December 3, 2022, in Atlanta. Georgia won 50-30. (Jason Getz /

Georgia football secondary knows it has ‘a lot of work to do’ before facing Ohio State offense

For as great as Saturday was for the Georgia football program, it was not a day to remember for the Georgia secondary.

The Bulldogs gave up 502 passing yards, the most ever by a Kirby Smart defense in a single game. Most of the damage came in the second half, after LSU inserted Garrett Nussmeier into the game. Some of it can be chalked up to the game situation — the Bulldogs carried a 35-10 lead out of halftime — but Nussmeier showed Georgia’s secondary can be had.

That’s not something you want as you get ready to face one of the top passing offenses in the country in Ohio State.

“We got a lot of work to do. Definitely don’t flush it,” safety Chris Smith said. “But we were able to come out on top with a great team win. We got to get back to the drawing board and continue to work.”

Ohio State is led by Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud. The junior quarterback has thrown for 37 touchdowns to just six interceptions. It helps to have two receivers on the outside like Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, as both topped 1,000 receiving yards in 12 games.

Related: Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba will not play against Georgia football in College Football Playoff

Add in that the Buckeyes hope to get back banged-up running backs Myren Williams and Treyvon Henderson in some form and the Bulldogs will have their hands full in trying to slow the No. 2 scoring offense in the country. And that’s without some of the problems Georgia ran into against LSU.

As for why things went so poorly against the Tigers, Georgia defenders were quick to credit Nussmeier and the LSU wide receivers. They were able to come out and make plays.

To those watching, LSU seemed to make it a point to go after both Kelee Ringo and Malaki Starks in coverage. Both players have had better days and will have to improve.

“We all know Kelee is a good player, good corner, top corner in the class,” Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson said. “Just get his confidence back, his teammates rally around him. Just gotta go back to work and lock in.”

The Bulldogs will have plenty of time to work, as the Peach Bowl won’t be played until Dec. 31. But the Bulldogs will find themselves back on the very field where they were torched by LSU.

In assessing his defense after the 50-30 win, Smart was blunt. It marked the first time all season Georgia had given up 30 points, far exceeding the GEorgia standard.

Related: Kirby Smart on Georgia football defensive performance: ‘It won’t be accepted or tolerated’

“We didn’t play real good defense tonight. But there were some opportunities that they didn’t just make plays, we just didn’t make plays,” Smart said. “Malaki had a couple tough plays. He makes those plays every day in practice. I would bet money on Malaki playing a half safety a thousand times.

“He misjudged the ball and the kid is crushed for it. But you know what, he’s going to be a better football player for having experienced it. We gave up some plays that we probably shouldn’t have.”

Smart knows his team can play better and his secondary almost certainly will against the Buckeyes. Last season, the Georgia defense was torched by Bryce Young in the SEC championship, giving up 34 points and 421 passing yards. But in the national championship game, Alabama had just one offensive touchdown and Young was intercepted twice, most famously by Ringo.

Georgia will have its hands full against Ohio State. With that much talent on the roster, the Buckeyes are more than capable of attacking the Georgia secondary.

“We recruit across the country,” Smart said. “Ohio State recruits across the country. So we both have players from all different areas. They’ve got players from the state of Georgia. We’ve got players from all over. It makes for a great talent matchup. I know NFL teams really enjoy watching these kids go against each other.”

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