OXFORD, Miss. – Kirby Smart spent much of the offseason downplaying his secondary. Yes, it statistically was the nation’s best last season, but it was protected by a strong pass rush, Smart opined, and the corners didn’t cover well.
His words seemed like motivation. After the past two games, they just seem accurate.
Now lacking a pass rush, Georgia’s secondary has been exposed the past two weeks, especially by Ole Miss, which Saturday piled up 330 passing yards, and could have added way more if it wanted to.
“He made big plays,” senior safety Dominick Sanders said of Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly. “And in the back end we gave up some plays.”
That was putting it generously. Cornerback Juwuan Briscoe, who was beaten on Kelly’s 52-yard touchdown in the second quarter, summed it up another way.
“It’s all been us. We pretty much gave them what they got,” Briscoe said. “It was us making mistakes, us not communicating. At one point we were paying different coverages.”
Last week at Missouri, the problem was giving up too many quick passes. But the Bulldogs tightened in the second half, and Briscoe and others took advantage of poor passes by making three interceptions.
There was only one interception Saturday, and it was by backup quarterback Jason Pellerin, who was in after the game was in hand. Starter Kelly had his way, going 18-for-24 for 282 yards.
The secondary didn’t have the benefit of a pass rush. There was only one sack, early in the game, and otherwise Kelly either had time to throw, or he made time by scrambling outside.
“Chad made good throws,” Sanders said. “In the back end we kind of did some things that we weren’t coached to do. We’re better than that, and we can learn from that.”
Georgia tried to shake things up, yanking cornerback Malkom Parrish mid-drive in the second quarter. Sophomore Deandre Baker came in for his first significant action at Georgia. Then Briscoe was yanked after being beat on a pass play, replaced by Parrish.
Smart compared the personnel switches to baseball:
“Sometimes there’s match-ups you can win with, and sometimes some guys are hot, and you’ve got to give him a different pitcher, a curveball instead of a fastball. So we just thought we would go with that competition. …
“Baker’s been this close to playing all year to me. He’s been a guy that we almost put in the North Carolina game. We didn’t get exposed the North Carolina game because they didn’t hit the plays. But they were there.”
But by the time those changes were made Saturday, it was too late.
This week, Georgia will have to figure things out more quickly.
“We’re going against another good quarterback, and also another good offense,” Sanders said of Tennessee and quarterback Joshua Dobbs. “But as a defense, the explosive plays we gave up, we can’t do that again next week.”