ATHENS – Pay no attention to that sack number, the coaches say. Or at least don’t pay too much attention to it. Don’t be alarmed that Georgia, even with its vaunted defense, is on pace for the least sacks this century.
That point has thus been made. Now move on to the trend that is, by all accounts, real: Georgia’s pass rush needs to get better. A lot better, if this team hopes to be truly special.
“We aren’t rushing like we were the first couple of games,” senior outside linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “I don’t know why that is. But we have that bye week to figure it out.”
Georgia has 10 sacks this season, tied for the least in the SEC with Arkansas and Mississippi State. That would put Georgia on pace, even in a 14-game season, for just 20 sacks, the lowest since, well, it’s not that clear, but definitely since the start of the 2000 season.
Sacks can be overrated, however, and coaches look at “affecting the quarterback,” whether that’s hurrying his throw, forcing him to throw off his spot, hitting him, etc. And in those cases, too, Georgia isn’t where it wants to be.
“There’s always a level of concern when you don’t have affect quarterback numbers,” coach Kirby Smart said this week. “Disruption is what we look for. We’re not disrupting the quarterback enough.”
That goes hand-in-hand with the secondary’s role in pass defense, which Georgia struggled with in the Missouri game. (Although Georgia still leads the SEC in fewest yards-per-pass-attempt by opponents.)
The Bulldogs pass rush was off to a good start this season, with Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter coming up huge in the win at Notre Dame, including forcing the fumble that sealed the game. But the Bulldogs haven’t had a sack the past two games, and the analysis in the film room has also shown fewer disruptions than earlier in the season.
“I don’t look at just sacks,” Smart said. “We look at batted balls. We look at pressures, hits, hurries. Moving him in the pocket and knocking balls down at DB. We had a couple of games where we made a lot of plays on the ball at DB but we didn’t affect the quarterback enough.”
So that was a point of emphasis this week in practice, as Bellamy indicated. Smart indicated it’s also not a matter of being more creative in schematics. It’s just rushing the quarterback better.
That pins it basically on the Wolfpack, as the outside linebackers at Georgia have been known the past few years. Bellamy is hoping that not playing with a club on his left hand will help, but also acknowledged that he and his fellow Wolfpack need to get back to basics.
“Zo and D’Andre (Walker) are some of the fastest guys you’ll see at their position, and all they have to do is get off the ball,” Bellamy said. “For all of us, thinking is slowing us down than earlier.”
Georgia can also take some solace in the quality of opponents they’ve faced: Mississippi State and Missouri lead the SEC in pass protection, as measured by sacks allowed. (Only three by MSU and five by Missouri.) Vanderbilt is fifth and Tennessee is tied for sixth.
Florida, the opponent next week, is second-worst in the SEC protecting the quarterback, yielding 20 sacks in six games. Auburn, perhaps the hardest opponent left on the regular-season schedule, has allowed the most sacks, 22 in seven games.
But if Alabama is the measuring stick, and the opponent in the SEC championship, the Crimson Tide have allowed 9 sacks in seven games.
“We’re trying. We’re really working hard on that this week to generate some,” Smart said. “It’s not more pressure, it’s not more blitzes, it’s just rush guys and win.”