ATHENS, Ga. - For all the youth and third-down disasters on Georgia's defense this season, the Bulldogs have shown improvement in recent weeks.
Georgia has vaulted to a respectable seventh in the Southeastern Conference in total defense with an average of 381.2 yards allowed per game. The Bulldogs yielded 337 yards to Vanderbilt and 319 to Florida the past two games, and though the Commodores and especially the Gators are far from explosive this season, Georgia defenders have developed more confidence.
"I think it was just a matter of time," junior defensive end Ray Drew said. "I've always heard the expression that experience is the best teacher and that you get the test first and then learn the lesson afterward. We had some young guys at the start who bought in, and I think that's biggest difference.
"You can have all the talent in the world at this level, but until you get comfortable with it, it's going to be tough."
The Bulldogs have been stout all season in run defense, ranking fourth in the SEC with an average of 137.8 yards allowed a game, and they are no longer last in third-down defense, inching up to 12th ahead of Tennessee and Kentucky.
Georgia ranks last in the SEC in only one defensive statistic, but it's the most important of all -- points allowed at 31.6 per game.
Allowing points is not always the fault of the defense, however, and Georgia's offense and special teams have provided plenty of examples this season. The Bulldogs allowed a safety and fumbled away a lateral against the Gators, which gave Florida a first down at Georgia's 14-yard line, and they fumbled a punt and dropped a punt snap on their side of the field at Vanderbilt.
"I think our defense is really playing better, and I think earlier in the season there were still some things that we were doing very well," coach Mark Richt said. "It became a broken record, but to get as many third-and-mediums and third-and-longs as we were getting, you're doing some pretty good things on first and second down. One was that we were handling the run game pretty good.
"The goal, obviously, is to get them off the field and to force kicks and things of that nature. We've done a better job of that the last few weeks, and I think that's why it's all starting to come together. Hopefully we can continue that momentum."
Georgia, which has started 13 first-time defensive players this season and seven true freshmen, has allowed at least 20 points in each of its first eight games for the first time in program history. The Bulldogs could halt that dubious stretch Saturday against visiting Appalachian State, which is in its last year at the Championship Subdivision level.
The Bulldogs have feasted on FCS foes each of the past three seasons, routing Idaho State (55-7), Coastal Carolina (59-0) and Georgia Southern (45-14).
"We need to have a take-notice game," Drew said. "So no matter what happens, people are going to look back and say, 'That defense played a heck of a game.' We've got to have a take-notice game."
Said inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera: "This is a game about us. We've got to go out there and show what we can do and try to play perfect."
Georgia's defense has held at least one opponent to 10 points or less every year since 1991.
"By no means are we there yet, but we're getting better and have continued to improve," defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "Guys do have a little more confidence now, which allows you to make more plays. We're pretty young, but our guys have done a good job of hanging together.
"Last week was probably their best moment from the sense of everything we talk about from staying focused to playing the next play. They had a chance to win the game by stopping Florida after they had crossed midfield, and we stopped them."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.