ATHENS, Ga. — With an injured Jarvis Jones brooding on the sideline, Georgia's defense allowed a 43-yard run, a 32-yard pass play and a 48-yard completion during last Saturday's 56-20 victory over Florida Atlantic.
"I'm always expecting more," Jones said this week, "and a lot of those plays we shouldn't have given up."
Yet the Bulldogs have yielded big plays even with their All-America outside linebacker in the lineup. Despite winning its first three games by 20 or more points and ascending to No. 5 in the rankings, Georgia has allowed eight gains of more than 25 yards.
Those eight have totaled 333 yards, or 41.6 yards a play. The other 213 plays run so far against Georgia's defense have averaged 3.3 yards.
"We didn't give up many big plays last year, but this year teams have made big plays," coach Mark Richt said. "That usually happens on a missed assignment and somebody trying to do someone else's job and his own responsibility gets exploited.
"We've got to be more disciplined with our eyes on the back end of the perimeter, and we've got to be more disciplined in the gap control when we bring certain blitzes."
Players point to a lack of communication as the biggest reason for allowing the big plays, and they attribute that problem to youthfulness.
In the 45-23 opening win over Buffalo, when Georgia allowed a 36-yard run, a 26-yard run and a 38-yard reception, the Bulldogs were without cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Malcolm Mitchell, linebackers Alec Ogletree and Chase Vasser, and safety Bacarri Rambo. Mitchell came back from an ankle sprain to play in the second game at Missouri, and Commings and Vasser returned last week from unrelated two-game suspensions.
Jones missed last week with a groin injury but is expected to play Saturday night against visiting Vanderbilt, but it is believed that Ogletree and Rambo will miss a fourth straight game. The Commodores started Jordan Rodgers at quarterback the first two games and Austyn Carta-Samuels last week against Presbyterian, and there will be no announcement of this week's starter until Saturday.
Georgia's early-season absences resulted in sooner-than-expected significant playing time for freshman linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Josh Dawson, redshirt freshman cornerback Devin Bowman and sophomore safeties Corey Moore and Connor Norman.
"When you start playing, you have to learn the scheme as well as playing with people who have already been playing," Commings said. "Communication is definitely one of those things you have to learn, and when Rambo and Ogletree get back out there, we all played together last year and the year before that, so we're all on the same page.
"With the new faces on the field, we just have to learn each other and trust each other to be in the right spot."
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has focused this week on eliminating the breakdowns that result in big plays. Grantham has done his share of successful halftime adjustments so far, as Georgia's defense has allowed only 17 second-half points, which includes a touchdown Buffalo scored with four minutes remaining.
Bulldogs defenders are ready to move forward with fewer and fewer massive gains allowed.
"You never want to give up the big play," cornerback Damian Swann said. "We go to the sideline, get chewed out, and then we correct it on the next series. We feel it for about five or 10 minutes, but by the next series it is over with."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...