- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is at the halfway mark, and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We'll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.
ATHENS, Ga. -- If any position group on Georgia’s defense seems primed to have a big second half, it’s the linebackers.
Although injuries and suspensions kept the group from playing together for most of the first six games, they had periods of absolutely explosive play. Now that everyone is back in the fold, they could be primed to lead a defensive revival in the second half -- particularly if All-American Jarvis Jones can overcome the injuries that recently have plagued him.
We expect to see junior Alec Ogletree have a big second half alongside Amarlo Herrera, while freshman Jordan Jenkins should play more as another pass-rush specialist to complement Jones. The Bulldogs have not put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but Ogletree and Jenkins can help solve those problems.
Let’s examine the first half for Georgia’s defensive line:
LINEBACKER REPORT CARD
STARTERS (stats): OLB Jarvis Jones (36 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 1 interception), OLB Chase Vasser (16 tackles, 4 TFL), ILB Amarlo Herrera (47 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 interception), ILB Alec Ogletree (22 tackles, 0.5 TFL)
RESERVES (stats): ILB Michael Gilliard (31 tackles, 1.5 TFL), OLB Jordan Jenkins (15 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks), OLB T.J. Stripling (5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack), OLB Josh Dawson (4 tackles, 1.5 TFL), OLB/ILB Ramik Wilson (3 tackles), OLB James DeLoach (1 tackle), ILB Brandon Burrows (0 tackles), OLB Reuben Faloughi (0 tackles)
HIGHLIGHT: Jones briefly inserted himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation by serving as a one-man wrecking crew in the Bulldogs’ win at Missouri. In the fourth quarter alone, Jones intercepted a James Franklin pass and returned it to the goal line to set up one Georgia touchdown and forced a fumble that Jenkins recovered at the Missouri 5 to set up another. He finished the night with nine tackles, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two sacks, an interception and five quarterback hurries.
LOWLIGHT: Georgia’s linebackers did a decent job containing South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore, but they had no answer for Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw, whose dual-threat skills helped him lead touchdown drives on South Carolina’s first two possessions. At times, Shaw ran circles around Georgia’s linebackers as he efficiently marched the Gamecocks down the field.
OVERALL EVALUATION: This group is considerably talented, but -- like Georgia’s defense in general -- was plagued by consistency issues throughout the first half of the season.
The team’s leading tackler, Herrera, has been excellent in run defense, but he and Michael Gilliard experienced some issues in pass coverage. Even Jones has had moments of vulnerability -- particularly on some low points against South Carolina.
It should help that Ogletree is back from a four-game suspension, and the group can develop continuity as they play together down the stretch. As an overall group thus far, they’ve been good but rarely great. We expect to see more of that greatness emerge in the second half.
POSITION GRADE: C-plus
2dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough