ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs are confident in their ability to defend the deep ball.
It just hasn't come into play much this season.
Georgia will enter Saturday night's home game against Vanderbilt ranked second nationally in fewest yards allowed per completion (8.37) and third in fewest yards per attempt (4.98). Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said after last Saturday's 38-12 triumph over Tennessee that it was tough to gauge the play of his secondary because the opponent didn't take many deep shots, but the Volunteers are not alone in that area.
"I think anybody can do it," Smart said this week. "It's a choice that their offensive coordinator has to make — shots that they want to take down the field. I don't think it's a matter of Tennessee couldn't do it or South Carolina couldn't.
"All of them can do it. They can match protect and throw the ball deep, or they can free release and throw the ball deep."
They can. They just haven't.
Last season, Georgia allowed two 63-yard touchdown passes from Missouri's Drew Lock to Emanuel Hall. There was Jarrett Stidham's 42-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton in a 40-17 loss at Auburn, and nobody is forgetting the 41-yard strike from Tua Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith that propelled Alabama past Georgia in January's national championship game.
Lock's longest completion against the Bulldogs on Sept. 22, however, was a mere 25 yards, reflecting Georgia's status as one of the top pass defenses nationally at the season's midway mark.
"We're just trying to be the best that we can," sophomore safety Richard LeCounte said. "Accolades and stuff like that come with a great defense, so we're just trying to focus on playing our team defense and getting the job done every week."
The Bulldogs (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) rank among the top 20 nationally in pass defense and pass efficiency defense, having allowed 837 yards and five touchdowns while intercepting four passes. The longest completion they've surrendered is the 44-yard touchdown from South Carolina's Jake Bentley to Bryan Edwards, who beat freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell with the Bulldogs leading 41-10 in the fourth quarter on Sept. 8.
A 41-yard touchdown by Middle Tennessee State's Patrick Smith on Sept. 15 and a 35-yard score last weekend by Tennessee's Ty Chandler were the result of short passes that became lengthy gains.
"With Georgia, you've got two strong defensive minds with Kirby and (coordinator) Mel Tucker," Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said Wednesday. "They are two of the best in the country, and they're together scheming teams week in and week out, so not only are they athletic and fast, but they're scheme sound. They do a great job of disguising their man coverages and their zone coverages, because it all looks the same.
"They also do a good job of letting a four-man pass rush work for them. It hasn't resulted in a lot of sacks, but they have been able to pressure the quarterback and play tight coverage. This is a well-coached group that understands its opponent. They're going to keep the ball in front of them, and they're going to tackle."
Senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur has completed 99 of 159 passes this season for 1,231 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions for Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-1). His most recent completion was a 68-yard touchdown strike to Kalija Lipscomb that bailed out the Commodores in a 31-27 win over Tennessee State last Saturday.
Shurmur and Lipscomb connected on a 38-yard gain against the Bulldogs last season, which marked Vanderbilt's deepest pass play in Georgia's 45-14 win in Nashville.
"We're going to have to be who we are," Mason said. "We're not going to not try and throw the ball down the field, because that's part of what we have to do. We feel like we have guys in matchups and opportunities as well. Georgia is a really good football team, but we have to play our style of football.
"We need to stay on the field, because if you don't stay on the field against Georgia, you're going to throw the ball a lot more than you want to."
Jadon Haselwood, the nation's No. 1 receiver prospect in the 2019 signing class, announced he has reopened his recruitment. The 6-foot-3, 196-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Ellenwood committed to the Bulldogs in March 2017. His departure resulted in Georgia falling from first to third behind Texas A&M and Alabama in the 247Sports.com team rankings for the 2019 recruiting cycle.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity dismissed Adam Sasser from the school's baseball team Wednesday. The senior first baseman has been accused of using a racial slur to describe Bulldogs backup quarterback Justin Fields during Saturday's game against Tennessee. Sasser hit .317 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs as a junior.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.