No secondary concern: Dawgs try to bolster pass D

ATHENS – The statistics didn't show a Peyton Manning-like night for Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge, but Ainge's effort against Georgia's secondary won the Vols the game.

"We had two basic coverage busts," said Georgia head coach Mark Richt. "It is the most basic thing we do." But the Bulldogs couldn't contain Tennessee's wide receivers at the most critical times of the game.

Richt felt Ainge was allowed to get comfortable after the Vols' first drive resulted in a touchdown. Tennessee was helped when Georgia defenders had a busted coverage twice on that drive. The Bulldogs have been stout all season long when it comes to pass defense in terms of yardage, but when it came down to it on Saturday Richt felt like the secondary hurt more than it helped.

Safety Tra Battle agreed.

"We have to be better mentally focused for the games," said Battle Tuesday. "We can't get caught up in the hype the way we did against Tennessee. Teams know that our safeties play really aggressive. They give us shorter in-routes to bite on and bring someone behind us."

Battle's point is driven home when SEC statistics reveal Thomas Davis is the league's fourth leading tackler and Greg Blue is 15th. Davis and Blue rank as the second and fifth leading tacklers in SEC play among defensive backs.

Run support from safties may have allowed Ainge and Tennessee the scoring opportunity at the start the game. Twice on the opening drive of the game Tennessee wide receivers broke contain. The broken coverage got Tennessee an early lead. It was also the first time this season a team scored a touchdown on its opening drive against the Bulldog defense.

"We have to realize with each game we play teams pick up on more tendencies that we have. We have to stay focused and stay within our system on defense and try not to make plays all of the time. We need to be in the right position, not just being aggressive," Battle said.

Battle said there is no need for Willie Martinez, the secondary coach, to change anything he is doing. Instead, the secondary must focus on following his instructions said the young safety.

"Coach Martinez really has not been difficult. He has been telling us what he has been telling us since we have been here. He's not saying anything new – it's us paying attention. Just like when your parents tell you something and you mess up and they point their finger at you and say ‘I told you so'. That's enough motivation for us to become more disciplined," said Battle.

Georgia is ranked third in the Southeastern Conference in pass defense, but the Dawgs are ranked ninth in pass defense efficiency allowing 55% of passes thrown to be completed for 774 yards and six touchdowns.

This week the Bulldogs are confronted with defending the conference's third best passer in terms of passing offense and passing efficiency, Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler. The junior has completed 65% of his passes for 928 yards and five touchdowns in as many games. However, Cutler is also an effective runner when the Commodores run the option. Stopping the option is another problem Georgia had earlier this season against Georgia Southern.

"Cutler is a great athlete," Battle said. "What we have to do is not let him get into rhythm. If we can prevent him from getting greased up and making big plays then we have a pretty good chance at stopping them. If we stop their strengths I think we have a pretty good shot at beating them."

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