Georgia defenders seek strong finish

photo Georgia head coach Mark Richt, right, and cornerback Damian Swann (5) watch as Georgia makes a field goal during their game against Charleston Southern on Nov. 22, 2014, in Athens, Ga.

ATHENS, Ga. - The Georgia Bulldogs made quite the first impression under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, holding Clemson to minus-19 yards in the fourth quarter of a 45-21 victory back on Aug. 30.

They would like to close the regular season Saturday against Georgia Tech with an effective performance as well.

"We could just keep adding on to all the good things we've done this year," senior cornerback Damian Swann said. "We shut out Missouri. We held Auburn to seven points. We had another shutout against Troy.

"There are so many good things we have accomplished, and to be able to put together another dominant performance is only going to add to all the good things we've been able to do."

Georgia has been significantly better across the board defensively in Pruitt's first season. The Bulldogs are allowing an average of 322.3 yards and 20.5 points through 11 games after yielding 375.5 yards and 29.0 points a year ago in Todd Grantham's fourth and final season as coordinator.

The Bulldogs experienced a gargantuan hiccup Nov. 1, when Florida rushed for 418 yards in a 38-20 upset triumph in Jacksonville, but they regrouped to whip Auburn 34-7 two weeks ago.

"You can go all the way back to the Clemson game, and we've really played well in spurts, and we've also played really bad in spurts," Pruitt said last Saturday on the Georgia Bulldog Radio Network. "What we've been trying to focus on this year is putting it all together for four quarters, just one play at a time. Against Auburn, that was really the first time we've been able to do that against a quality opponent.

"Our guys understood the game plan. We leveraged the football, and when you look back at this year at the times we've given up some plays in the run game, it's because we were not leveraging the football. We tackled well against Auburn and we rotated well in the secondary, and we didn't give up any big plays in the pass game."

Georgia held Auburn's offense, which had amassed 582 yards the previous week against Texas A&M, to 292. The run-happy Tigers had 150 yards on the ground and only 105 after their opening possession.

Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt said the defensive improvement is due to a strong work ethic that Pruitt and three other first-year defensive assistants -- Tracy Rocker, Mike Ekeler and Kevin Sherrer -- have instilled. Richt added that players who don't practice well can get replaced, and Bulldogs defenders admit it wasn't always easy during the first few months of the transition.

"The toughest thing for us was getting out of our old habits," senior defensive tackle Mike Thornton said. "We are creatures of habit, and over the last four years we were taught to do things a certain way with the old coaches."

Said senior inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera: "A lot of people didn't trust one another last year, and people were trying to do other people's jobs. There is trust now."

Trust will be key for Georgia's defense Saturday with the arrival of the Yellow Jackets, who rank third nationally with 327.9 rushing yards a game. Georgia Tech runs out of the triple-option, and Bulldogs players have more experience against it than the new defensive assistants.

"It will be the first shot out of the cannon, so to speak, for this staff to go against the Georgia Tech offense," Richt said. "I have done my best to explain the emotion of the game and how relentless Georgia Tech is in how they go about their business. You've got to be tough in this game, because the type of offense they run is one where they're going to come after you down after down after down.

"You've got to be resilient. You've got to be good fundamentally, and you've got to be tough fundamentally, too."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.