- 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. -- Considering the depth chart mess that existed within Georgia’s secondary before the season, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Bulldogs have experienced numerous continuity issues in pass coverage.
Whatever the reason, a defense that ranked 10th nationally against the pass last season (176 yards per game) and fifth in interceptions (20) looked nothing like its formerly dominant self -- even after most of the group reunited when All-America safety Bacarri Rambo returned from a season-opening, four-game suspension.
At the midway point, Georgia is 43rd nationally and eighth in the SEC against the pass, allowing 212.3 yards per game, and the Bulldogs have intercepted only five passes -- three by defensive backs.
This week Rambo attributed some of the secondary’s letdowns to rust and guaranteed that it would play more effectively in the second half of the season. But to this point -- like the other position groups on Georgia’s defense -- the secondary has not lived up to its potential this season.
Let’s examine the first half for Georgia’s secondary:
DEFENSIVE BACK REPORT CARD
STARTERS (stats): CB Sanders Commings (14 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 pass breakup), CB Damian Swann (28 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, 2 PBU), SS Shawn Williams (41 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 PBU), FS Bacarri Rambo (15 tackles)
RESERVES (stats): CB Branden Smith (14 tackles, 5 PBU), CB Malcolm Mitchell (12 tackles, 3 PBU), CB Devin Bowman (3 tackles), CB Sheldon Dawson (6 tackles), CB Blake Sailors (5 tackles), FS Marc Deas (1 tackle), FS Connor Norman (13 tackles), S Josh Harvey-Clemons (8 tackles, 1 TFL), SS Corey Moore (5 tackles)
HIGHLIGHT: Although Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray passed for 281 yards against Georgia -- the season high for opposing quarterbacks against the Bulldogs -- Georgia also intercepted him three times. Commings got him twice and Swann made a leaping, one-handed grab off an Alec Ogletree deflection for the other. They also limited Volunteers wideouts Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to five catches for 77 yards total.
LOWLIGHT: Considering the circumstances of the game, the secondary’s lowlight of the first half was probably against South Carolina, when it surrendered two long pass plays -- including a 42-yard completion on the Gamecocks’ opening drive that went straight through Rambo’s hands -- that eventually led to touchdowns. The Gamecocks passed for only 162 yards, but those two completions were huge momentum-builders.
OVERALL EVALUATION: It’s not so much that the defensive backs are surrendering enormous yardage totals; it's more that they have previously proved they can do better than they have this season.
Of course an inconsistent pass rush and the depth chart turnover, along with Rambo and Commings suspended to start the season, created problems. But considering that Rambo, Williams, Commings and Smith are all seniors, it’s not unreasonable to expect that they would perform more smoothly when they reunited.
Williams is quietly authoring a decent season at the safety position, ranking second on the team with 41 tackles. And Swann has done a solid job in his first season as a starter. But the secondary’s performance as a whole in the first six games left something to be desired.
POSITION GRADE: C-minus
4dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough