Dawgs' Secondary Looking for More Plays

ATHENS – Asher Allen can't explain it. Georgia's defensive backs have had their fair share of chances, but since Reshad Jones picked off a Chris Smelley pass to seal Georgia's win against South Carolina more than a month ago, the secondary has failed to haul in a single interception.

"We're going to have to switch up the Powerade or something," Allen said. "Something's going on. Something's in the drink."

A year ago, Georgia had 15 interceptions, and all but two came from defensive backs. This season, Jones' pick against the Gamecocks is the only interception by a member of the Bulldogs' secondary. The defensive backs have combined to intercept the same number of passes as defensive end Demarcus Dobbs.

The shortage of turnovers isn't a product of the personnel on the field. The Bulldogs returned five defensive backs who had recorded picks a year ago.

When recruiting DBs, head coach Mark Richt said Georgia puts a special emphasis on finding players who can catch, and on the practice field this season, that's exactly what they've done. On Saturdays, however, it has been a different story.

"Day after day, when you do ball drills, they're catching the ball relatively well," Richt said. "Their skills are good, but game time, we haven't caught them as well as we should."

The interception drought isn't due to a lack of opportunities either. Georgia's defense has been nearly impossible to run against – the Bulldogs rank fourth in the nation against the run – and opponents have been forced to throw early and often. In the Bulldogs' five wins this season, opponents have thrown the ball nearly 64 percent of the time.

The emphasis on stopping the run has skewed Georgia's defensive statistics, with the Bulldogs ranked 11th in the SEC in pass defense. The hope, however, was that more passing plays would mean more interceptions, and that hasn't happened.

"It's talked about a lot," Jones said. "Turnover ratio makes a difference in a ballgame, and we need to pick it up. We've had a couple balls hit our hands, and we need to capitalize on it and make the plays."

For the season, the Bulldogs have given up as many turnovers as they've taken away – a number that ranks them in the middle of the pack in the conference. Saturday's opponent, however, is near the top.

Vanderbilt has a plus-7 turnover differential, second best in the SEC, and Richt said that number is directly responsible for the Commodores' 5-1 start.

Richt said he wasn't sure exactly how many potential interceptions Georgia's defenders had dropped – Jones puts the number at six – but it's clear the Bulldogs could have statistics that rival what the Commodores have done.

"As many balls as hit our chest or hit our hands," Richt said, "if we caught them, we'd be right at the top in turnover ratio."

Against Georgia Southern, Jones accidentally batted a potential interception away from Darryl Gamble while trying to make a play on the ball. Against Arizona State, Allen had an interception negated after referees flagged him for holding. Last week against Tennessee, the defensive backs bungled multiple opportunities to reel in an interception.

That has been the frustrating part, Allen said. The Bulldogs simply aren't making the most of their chances.

"I had one at South Carolina where I should have gone up with two hands instead of one," Allen said. "That's one I'm thinking about to this day. We've had opportunities. Everybody in the secondary would say they had an opportunity to catch a ball."

Still, missed opportunities are better than no opportunities at all, and that's the mind-set Georgia's DBs are taking with them as the season progresses.

If they keep putting themselves in position to make the pick, eventually it will happen.

A year ago at this point in the season, Georgia's interception total wasn't any better than it is now. In fact, while the Bulldogs finished with an impressive tally, they had just two interceptions in their first eight games of the season. Then the light clicked, the DBs began cashing in on their opportunities, and in the final five games of the year, Georgia picked off 13 passes.

So while the frustration may be growing a bit among the secondary, no one is panicking just yet.

"It's not like we're rushing to get some," cornerback Ramarcus Brown said. "When we get them, we'll be happy, but we're just playing hard and when they come, they come."


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