Fast-improving Georgia defense looking for more break, less bend

Georgia football-Bulldogs defense looking for less bend, more break-Georgia Bulldogs-Auburn Tigers
Georgia's defense struggled in the first quarter but basically shut down the Auburn Tigers the rest of the way en route to a 27-10 win Saturday night at Sanford Stadium. )

ATHENS – Jonathan Ledbetter is not exactly offended when Georgia’s defense is described as “bend-but-don’t-break.” But he said it’s not the characterization he or the Bulldogs are looking for.

“Hey, I like that, OK,” the Bulldogs’ defensive end said with a chuckle. “But I don’t want us to be named as that. I’d rather us never break and not bend at all.”

As it was, Georgia didn’t bend much, and it never broke while holding up their end in what finished as a 27-10 victory over Auburn.

The Bulldogs gave up a long touchdown drive on the Tigers’ second possession of the game and 10 points in the first half. But it was goose-eggs after that. In the end, it was the third-lowest scoring output by an opponent this season.

Georgia entered Saturday’s game at Sanford Stadium 10th in the nation in points allowed (16.4 ppg). It should move up this week.

The fast finish for the defense came after a fast start for Auburn, which had seven first downs and 85 yards in the first quarter. The Tigers would manage just 125 yards after halftime.

“That’s exactly what we are,” cornerback Deandre Baker said of the bend-but-don’t break label. “We might get into tough situations, but we like to stand up with our backs against the wall and fight. That’s when we all come together as a unit. We just play hard for each other.”

The chief difference for the Bulldogs came on critical downs and third down in particular. Auburn and heralded quarterback Jarrett Stidham finished 3-of-11 on third downs.

Several times the Tigers managed to bust out with big offensive plays. They had 10 plays that went for more than 10 yards, including a 20-yard pass play and a 30-yard run. But when Auburn crossed midfield, the Georgia defense bowed up. After halftime, the Tigers crossed the 50 only three times, with the 35-yard line representing their furthest progress.

“We didn’t know how well they’d be able to run the ball, and we thought that we couldn’t give up big plays. We played that way,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We were a little confused early. When you play these guys, traditionally, you try to survive the first script and the first three or four drives and you make adjustments as you play. We did not play real well early. … We played better the second half defensively.”

Monty Rice led the Bulldogs with 8 tackles, and his fellow inside linebackers Tae Crowder and Juwan Taylor added 5 each. Safeties Mark Webb and Richard LeCounte added 6 each.

The Bulldogs totaled 4 tackles for loss but had no sacks. Ledbetter had 4 tackles and forced a fumble. He came out of the game briefly in the second half with what he said was a minor injury.

The Bulldogs feel like they haven’t peaked yet defensively. They feel like they have less bend and more break in them.

“It’s apparent that we’re coming together,” Ledbetter said. “You go through seasons and you never know what to expect. Some teams start off really hot and some teams fall off. But I think it’s just our consistency and getting better every week. That’s what kind of pushes you above all those other teams. You just have to kind of focus on you and not anyone else. I think that’s what we’re doing now more than anything and I’m really just happy that’s what we’re doing.”

Said Baker: “We’d love to win games by ourselves. We love to shut people out and score on defense,” Baker said. “We’d love to tell the offense we don’t need them. We just haven’t done that yet.”

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