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Georgia Football: Bulldogs' Early "Defensive Struggles" Are Nothing to Sweat

September 1, 2012; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham shown on the sideline against the Buffalo Bulls during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Georgia defeated Buffalo 45-23. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE
Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE
David BoutinContributor IIISeptember 17, 2012

One of the main strengths of the 2012 Georgia Bulldogs was supposed to be the defense, right? Todd Grantham’s unit did finish in the top-five in total defense last season, after all. And UGA’s defense even returned nine starters, including All-Americans Bacarri Rambo and Jarvis Jones. Everything defensively seemed primed for a dominant season.

But so far, that has not been the case.

In an article published today on ESPN.com, Mark Schlabach points out, “Georgia's vaunted defense has been far from dominant in the first three games. The Bulldogs allowed 23 points against Buffalo and 20 to both Missouri and Florida Atlantic.”

Sounds bad, right? Well, maybe not. Todd Grantham certainly won’t make excuses for the defense, so I’ll go ahead and do it for him. Let’s compartmentalize these games and take a closer look at what’s going on with the Dawgs’ D before we hit the panic button.

Against Buffalo, Georgia was without five key players on defense. Safety Bacarri Rambo, cornerback Sanders Commings and linebackers Alec Ogletree and Chase Vasser were all serving suspensions for the opener. Malcolm Mitchell—who moved to cornerback to help out during these suspensions—also missed this game due to a sprained ankle.

And, again, this was the season opener. There’s bound to be some kinks to be worked out in the first game, and that was true for the Bulldogs.

Buffalo’s Brandon Oliver is a quality back and he showed it against the Bulldogs. Oliver finished the day with over 100 yards rushing—but it did take him 30 carries to get there.

Alex Zordich, I think, was a little better than the Bulldogs expected, both in throwing and running. The defense found itself out of position several times and gave up some big scrambling runs to the Buffalo quarterback.

But then halftime adjustments were made and the Dawgs clamped down defensively. Buffalo only mustered 94 total yards after the half, 75 of which came on a fourth-quarter drive, well after the game was in hand for Georgia.

Week 2 sent the Bulldogs to Columbia to take on the high octane offense of the Missouri Tigers. Many questioned how the Bulldogs would handle dual threat quarterback James Franklin and the Missouri spread offense that averaged nearly 475 yards-per-game in 2011. The Bulldogs answered by shutting down Franklin’s rushing attack and held Missouri to 100 yards under their season average from a season ago.

And although Mitchell did play in this game, Georgia was still without the four aforementioned suspended players against Mizzou.

Last week, the Florida Atlantic Owls came to Athens put up 20 on Georgia, but six of those points were scored by the defense on an interception return for a touchdown. Commings and Vasser returned for this game, but Ogletree and Rambo were still out serving their suspensions and Jarvis Jones sat out the FAU game due to a minor groin injury. Jones is not only the best playmaker for the Georgia defense, he’s also the emotional leader of the unit.

Is it troubling that the defense has “struggled” in the early going of the 2012 campaign? Maybe a little, but the Dawgs should have Jones back for the Vanderbilt game and, as a result, the defense should be just fine.

The following week, Ogletree and Rambo will return when Tennessee comes calling. Expect them to tee off against the Volunteers and take out some of the frustration they must have been experiencing after missing Georgia’s first four games.

That will put the defense back at full strength with every starter having at least one game under their belt when the Dawgs travel to the other Columbia to take on South Carolina October 6. And thank goodness for that.

Bulldog Nation, don’t fret about your defense—it's going to be just fine.

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