ATHENS, Ga. — In each of his four years with Georgia, Tim Wansley has played for a different defensive coordinator.
In each year, November has brought complaints. By the time Georgia has given up big yardage totals to such teams as Tennessee, Kentucky and especially Florida in October, new criticisms arise about the defensive scheme.
When Joe Kines was the coordinator, Georgia's defense was accused of being too conservative. Under Kevin Ramsey's one troubled season, the constant charge was Georgia gambled too much with man-to-man schemes. Under Gary Gibbs last year, there was dramatic improvement, but that was overshadowed by the rising tide of discontent that eventually led to Coach Jim Donnan's ouster.
Coach Mark Richt didn't seek to retain Gibbs — possibly because Gibbs was tied so closely to Donnan — and now Georgia's fourth defensive coordinator in as many years, Brian VanGorder, is hearing some complaints that may be new to him but are sadly familiar to Georgia fans.
After giving up 584 yards in last week's 24-10 loss to Florida, Georgia has allowed an average of 526 yards in its last four games. The Bulldogs rank 86th in the nation in total defense, allowing 408.4 yards per game. That's almost 100 yards per game more than last year's average of 313.5, which ranked 19th in the nation.
With VanGorder, the recent criticism has been that Georgia played too soft in its defensive scheme against Florida — even though the Bulldogs held the Gators almost 20 points below their scoring average.
Fielding more questions about his defense, Richt for the first time this week said that Georgia does not have the players to man the defensive scheme he would like to play.
"When we get to recruit some of the players we want, I think our style of defense will change,'' Richt said.
Asked Thursday to expand on that statement, Richt said: "The better we can cover and lock people down man-to-man, the easier it is to stop the run. We've got to make sure the guys that are here get better in man coverage and we've got to sign the kids that can do those things. ... The biggest thing is we want to sign kids who can really run on both sides of the ball.''
Georgia's poor pass defense numbers may unfairly target the secondary as lacking in talent. While former tailback Bruce Thornton is still learning to play defense in his first year as a starting cornerback, Wansley and safeties Terreal Bierria and Jermaine Phillips are highly regarded. Wansley and Phillips are seniors.
By comparison, the biggest disappointments on the defense have been the pass rushers who have failed to support the defensive backs.
Georgia has ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in quarterback sacks all season. The lack of a pass rush is most obviously reflected in the fact starting defensive ends Charles Grant and Bruce Adrine still do not have a quarterback sack.
One result of the lack of pass rush is that Wansley, who last year shared the SEC lead with six interceptions, does not have one this season.
Against Florida, Wansley and the other defensive backs spent most of the day just trying to stay behind Florida's receivers in zone coverages.
"We've been playing a lot of zone,'' Wansley said. "(Against Florida), we played something like five snaps of man. I don't know if that was just the way (VanGorder) was feeling about keeping them contained and not giving up the big play. I think we did a good job, but giving up that many yards ...(Florida's) offense played really well.''
Wansley said VanGorder has stressed missed opportunities during this extra week of practice before Georgia's Nov. 10 home game against Auburn.
"I like to press; I like man (coverages),'' Wansley said. "I also like zone. When we mix it up, that's what confuses an offense.''
Added Wansley: "There have been a lot of things we have to adjust to. Hopefully we'll mix it up more against Auburn. I'm looking forward to that challenge.''
Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.