ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia football coach Mark Richt clearly sits with a glass half full when it comes to the pass defense of the Bulldogs.
After allowing 153 receiving yards and two touchdowns to Louisiana-Monroe's Rashon Ceaser in the season opener, the Bulldogs enabled Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary to throw for a career-high 295 yards last Saturday. Georgia outscored the Warhawks and Commodores by a combined 82-28, forcing both opponents to throw more than normal, but the Bulldogs rank 12th among the 14 Southeastern Conference teams in pass defense entering Saturday's game against visiting South Carolina.
"It's early in the year, so stats do get skewed pretty good," Richt said this week. "When teams are behind, they do start chunking it, but you could have said how great we were in the run category. Part of it is because we got ahead of people and they were slinging it.
"They didn't stay true to maybe what their game plan was. I just think the stats are a little skewed early on."
Georgia has been stout against the run, holding ULM and Vanderbilt to an average of 75 rushing yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry.
Yet in the fourth quarter of last week's game in Nashville, the Bulldogs allowed an eye-popping 231 yards, which helped turn a 24-6 cakewalk into a more contested event until inside linebacker Jake Ganus intercepted McCrary in the end zone with 4:18 remaining. Vanderbilt had 188 of its fourth-quarter yards through the air.
"I don't think it's a concern," Ganus said. "If you go back and look at the tape, I think there are just a few big plays that skew those numbers. I think overall as a defense that we've gotten the job done the past two weeks, and we'll just continue to get better."
The Bulldogs have intercepted four passes so far this season, which ties Ole Miss and South Carolina for the league lead. Georgia intercepted McCrary three times, with Dominick Sanders returning his 88 yards for the final score, but Ganus, Leonard Floyd and Reggie Wilkerson also dropped potential pickoffs.
"It's one of those things where we've got to look the ball in the eye and have just lost focus," junior safety Quincy Mauger said. "In that fourth quarter, we lost sight of our assignments and didn't pay attention to our keys. We talk about being disciplined with our eyes, and I know that's a thing that I've got to work on.
"We've got to eliminate some of our errors. We have to know how to play our role, reading whether it's a run or a pass, how to attack blockers and how to attack the ball."
South Carolina is scheduled to have a first-time starter at quarterback, with former walk-on Perry Orth taking over for injured Connor Mitch. The Gamecocks are averaging just 181 passing yards a game, so that won't exactly be strength versus strength according to early-season statistics.
Though Richt isn't putting too much into the early results of Georgia's pass defense, he isn't discounting them, either.
"You might use those here or there for motivation," Richt said. "Last week, when there was only one game, Vanderbilt had the No. 1 rush defense in the SEC. So you might be able to trick your guys for a game.
"They wound up stoning our run a bunch of times, but we broke free and got those long runs, and all of a sudden our yards per carry looked pretty good."
Contact David Paschall at [email protected] or 423-757-6524.