Georgia pass defense still has some work to do

Malkom Parrish-UGA defensive backs
Malkom Parrish (14), Dominick Sanders (24) and J.R. Reed celebrate after Parrish's late interception vs. South Carolina.

ATHENS – Malkom Parrish barely had made it to Georgia’s sideline when the golden spikes were hoisted on his shoulders, and then Parrish himself was hoisted on his teammates’ shoulders. One of them was J.R. Reed, who had worn the spikes himself earlier in the game.

“It might be a new trend we’re starting,” Reed said of the shoulder-carrying, which is now in addition to the golden spikes that go to Georgia players who notch a turnover. “They come in bunches. We got some last week, we got some this week. We’ve just gotta keep them coming.”

Georgia, the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, did indeed get 2 interceptions against South Carolina on Saturday in a 24-10 win. But the overall pass defense may not have been worth celebrating.

The Gamecocks amassed 227 passing yards, tied for the second most the Bulldogs have yielded this season (Missouri had 253.). It was another indication that while the pass defense is by no means poor, it probably needs to get better if Georgia is going to stay unbeaten.

Auburn, the next opponent, entered this weekend as the SEC’s third-best passing team as measured by passing yards per game (224.6.) South Carolina was fifth. Alabama, which probably awaits in the SEC Championship Game, is seventh, but like Georgia has played in so many blowouts that it hasn’t had to pass that much.

“We did all right. We’ve just got to clean up some things,” Reed said when asked about the pass defense on Saturday. “That’s a good team over there, so they’re going to make plays. We expect teams to make plays; it’s all about how we respond. And we responded well.”

Judging the pass defense means judging more than the defensive backs. The pressure on South Carolina’s Jake Bentley wasn’t that heavy at times, allowing him to hit on a number of intermediate throws.

It appeared that Georgia, much like in the Florida game, didn’t send many blitzes, relying on its front four to get some pressure, and hoped for a numbers advantage in the secondary. That worked sometimes: Bentley completed 21 of 35 passes.

But South Carolina completed passes of 35 and 22 yards and a pair of 16-yarders.

“There was one time they were running wide open because they ran a double-move,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “One time they were wide open because we didn’t cover them. There was a couple times they were covered and caught the ball.”

Smart praised the “resiliency” of the Georgia defense. He pointed to how the team responded after South Carolina converted (with the help of a penalty) a fake punt try, getting the ball to midfield. Georgia still held the Gamecocks to a field goal.

“That just speaks volumes about our defense,” Smart said. “A lot of good players, a lot of seniors on that defense that will be dearly missed come next year. And those guys don’t ever point fingers; they don’t point blame. They just keep chopping.”

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