ATHENS, Ga. — In the latter stages of Saturday’s 24-10 loss to Florida in Jacksonville, Kirby Smart didn’t see any quit in a Georgia defense that the last couple of weeks arguably has played good enough to win but hasn’t.
“They were just hell-bent that they were going to go out there and punish somebody,” Smart said. “That’s what we play for, to go punish the other team and not look at the scoreboard. That’s the first time I thought, ‘You know what? They didn’t care about the scoreboard, they just wanted to go out there and stop them over and over again.’ They found joy in that and that’s all they can do right now is control that.”
Florida led 21-10 before it had two three-and-outs that Georgia’s offense followed with consecutive four-and-outs. The Gators tacked on a field goal after getting the ball at the Georgia 48.
Georgia lost after holding Florida to 231 total yards of offense, a week after losing after limiting Vanderbilt to 171 total yards.
Only one team with two or more losses this season has yielded fewer yards per game in defeat than Georgia and that’s Army, according to CFBstats.com
Georgia’s defense is giving up 317.3 yards per game in its four losses compared to 335 yards per game in its four wins.
“You’re out there playing for pride,” inside linebacker Reggie Carter said. “No matter what the scoreboard says you want to go out there and do your job and let them know that you’re here and you’re going to be here until the clock hits 0.0.”
Keeping the spirits up for a defense that isn’t being rewarded at the end by a victory on the scoreboard isn’t an issue, according to Smart.
“I guess maybe they went through that some last year,” he said. “There were some frustrations. We’ve told them it doesn’t matter. We have to do what we have to do to win. If we don’t create turnovers, if we don’t create positive field position by stopping them on third down, that’s our job.”
Georgia’s defense gave up 18 plays of 20 plus yards in the first four games but only 12 in next four games.
Part of Georgia’s numbers on defense – 18th in the nation at 326.1 yards per game allowed – are a product of going up against offenses that have struggled to move the ball. Georgia’s past four opponents are 75th or lower in total offense including South Carolina at No. 123 and Vanderbilt at No. 124.
There also have been some players starting to emerge.
Sophomore cornerback Deandre Baker led with 10 tackles against Florida and had the highest individual grade on defense for the game. He has started three of the last four games while sitting out Vanderbilt loss with a foot injury.
“He takes pride in tackling,” Smart said. “We’ve challenged these corners. That’s been one of the areas we’ve been really weak in and he’s been really strong in.”
Georgia has more than a half dozen team defensive goals each game, according to Carter, and “a good amount of them,” were reached against Florida.
“We’re improving,” Carter said, “and everybody is working on something that they need to get better at.”
“I just feel like we can do even more,” safety Aaron Davis said. “We’re definitely not at our max potential…Our mentality should be if they don’t score, we don’t lose.”