ATHENS — Ever since it came out the week after the Florida loss that there had been some dissension between Jeremy Pruitt and some members of Georgia’s offensive staff, his defense has gone out and played lights out. And that was the case again Saturday as the Bulldogs’ defenders stiffened with the game on the line against Georgia Southern.
Georgia forced the Eagles into punts on its final two possessions of regulation, then held the Eagles on fourth-and-less-than-a-yard on their first and only possession of overtime. That set up the Bulldogs’ offense with chance to win the game on their first player of the extra period to win 23-17.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m proud of them,” said Pruitt, whose group held Georgia Southern to 277 total yards rushing, or 166 below their average. “Especially considering where we started the season. ‘Cause we lost a lot of good football players last year. The way they’ve grown and played since the Tennessee game, the guys have become resilient and fought every week. That’s all we can ask them to do.”
You never know when Pruitt will show up for interviews. Usually it’s after his defense has not done well in a game. So it was an unexpected surprise when Georgia’s second-year defensive coordinator stayed to answer questions in the Bulldogs’ victorious locker room.
It was the first time Pruitt has been available to address accusations that there has been an ongoing riff between him and some members of the Bulldogs’ offensive staff and has had run-ins with other support personnel.
At first he avoided the subject altogether. “I’ve got nothing to say about that,” he said. “… I’m going to answer football questions.”
Then addressed it broadly. “You know, we’re just worried about the things that we can control,” he said. “Right now that’s the preparation for Georgia Tech. Our guys have been focused on that and we’ve been productive on the field because of that.”
But he went all in when asked if he felt he and the other Georgia staff members were coaching for their professional lives as they were down in the second half to their unheralded Southern neighbors.
“I kind of feel like that every day, you know,” Pruitt said. “That’s the way the business works. You win, everybody pats you on the back. You lose, they’re ready to get rid of you. That’s part of the job and you know it when you take it. I’ve been a coaches’ son my whole life, so I’m used to it.”
But as has been mostly the case since Pruitt came to UGA from Florida State in 2014, the Bulldogs got it done on defense. They limited Southern’s run-obsessed, triple-option offense to 233 yards on the ground, or 145 below their average. And running back Matt “He Gone” Breida managed only 66 yards on 20 carries, or 5.38 yards per carry below his average.
It was an impressive showing especially considering Georgia will see much of the same next Saturday at Georgia Tech.
“There’s some things we can take away from it,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got to do a better job on the perimeter. We let some balls out on us and were fortunate on a couple of other ones. We’ll watch the tape and hopefully find some ways to improve.”
There’s no denying what Georgia did at the end of the game. The Bulldogs’ performance on the Eagles’ only possession of overtime was the stuff of legend, particularly for Leonard Floyd. The junior outside linebacker had a hand in on every play, including the final tackle for a three-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Georgia 16. Floyd and Jordan Jenkins combined on that one.
“The plays presented themselves,” he said of his star player making those stops. “It just so happened on those plays he was turned loose.”