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Georgia photo/Chamberlain Smith / Georgia inside linebacker Monty Rice (32) and safety Richard LeCounte (2) have helped the Bulldogs rank among the top defensive teams nationally, but that has not translated into a lot of turnovers.

ATHENS, Ga. — There seems to be a statistical disconnect for the sixth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs as they continue a November filled with Power Five opposition with this week's game against visiting Missouri.

Georgia has a top-five defense nationally when it comes to fewest points (11.4) and fewest rushing yards (77.6) allowed per game. The Bulldogs are among the top 10 in total defense (268.1), and they're among the top 15 in pass-efficiency defense.

Yet when it comes to racking up turnovers, Georgia is 13th in the Southeastern Conference, ahead of only Vanderbilt.

"If I could give you the answer, I would," Bulldogs junior safety Richard LeCounte III said. "We've definitely got to get turnovers and cause more havoc as a defense, but I love how we're playing. I think we're doing really well and that we've got room for improvement.

"Overall, I think we're doing really well."

Despite holding South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida to fewer than 300 total yards in each of its last three games, Georgia collected only one turnover, with LeCounte coming up with a fumble by Wildcats quarterback Lynn Bowden that was caused by Bulldogs safety J.R. Reed.

The Bulldogs have nine gained turnovers this season, exactly half the amount compiled by SEC leaders Alabama, Florida and Mississippi State.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart amassed 13 interceptions as a Bulldogs safety from 1995 to 1998, leading the team as a junior with six and again as a senior with five. So far this season, LeCounte, Reed, Lewis Cine, Divaad Wilson and Latavious Brini share the team lead with one apiece.

Reed, Deandre Baker and linebacker Tae Crowder each had a team-high two interceptions last season on a defense that totaled eight in 14 games.

"We play a little different style, because we're a match defense for the most part," Smart said. "I think a lot of interceptions come through zone defenses and being able to see the ball a lot of times. We are not all looking at the ball. We are looking at the man, whether it's a zone matchup or a man matchup, and it's what we think gives us the best chance to make people inefficient, and it doesn't always promote a lot of interceptions.

"I mean, historically, we have not had a ton of interceptions."

That should not be confused with Smart feeling content about the 13th-place league ranking. Georgia did, after all, force two turnovers in back-to-back wins over Notre Dame and Tennessee.

In last season's 43-29 win at Missouri, the Bulldogs collected three turnovers, so perhaps this will be the week to erupt.

"We've got to do a better job getting turnovers. There's no doubt about that," Smart said. "That comes with forcing them, havoc, tipped balls, batted balls, strip-outs, knocking the crap out of people, ripping the ball out — those things all affect turnovers, but we've been short on interceptions, for sure."

Said Crowder: "Some people just hold the ball a little tighter. We're going to keep practicing that and keep going for the ball, and eventually it will pay off for us."

 

Odds and ends

Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant told reporters Tuesday that his injured hamstring is at 75% and that he wasn't sure he would play Saturday. ... CBS announced Tuesday that 6.978 million viewers watched the Bulldogs defeat the Gators 24-17, making it the most-watched Georgia-Florida game in more than 30 years.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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