Georgia's struggling defense missing 'swag'

CHARLES ODUM AP Sports Writer Published:

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Bacarri Rambo believes Georgia's defense has too much talent to be giving up so many points.

NFL draft experts agree.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones No. 1 on his 2013 NFL draft board. Scouts Inc.'s projected first round includes four members of Georgia's defense: Jones, defensive tackle Jonathan Jenkins, linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Shawn Williams. Jones and Ogletree are juniors.

Despite that top talent, No. 14 Georgia lost to South Carolina 35-7 last week, one week after giving up 44 points in a narrow win over Tennessee.

Georgia (5-1, 4-1 SEC) is off this week and plays at Kentucky next week.

Rambo, a 2011 first-team All-America safety, says the defense has been hurt by communication breakdowns.

"Everybody is guessing, well not guessing, but just some people don't prepare well enough like some others do," Rambo said. "It's just like they thought we were going to be in this call and one person said we're going to be in this call, so everybody is on different pages.

"Once we get everybody on the same page ... once that happens, everything else will start to fall in place."

Linebacker Christian Robinson also said poor communication is a problem.

"Mainly little things," Robinson said. "Usually once you've made a mistake you correct it, but once you've made five different mistakes, that may be five touchdowns. That's why we practice so much and meet so much, to eliminate those communication issues before they happen."

Linebacker Jordan Jenkins said there were breakdowns against South Carolina even when most members of the defense were in position to make stops.

"On certain plays, one or two people were not doing something right," Jenkins said. "In the SEC, if one person isn't doing something right, then all hell is going to break loose."

Lack of continuity has been another problem.

Rambo and Ogletree each served four-game suspensions to start the season. Cornerback Sanders Commings and linebacker Chase Vasser served two-game suspensions. Malcolm Mitchell began the season at cornerback as a fill-in for Commings, but Mitchell is now spending most of his time at wide receiver.

There were other adjustments to find replacements for the suspended players. The constant turnover in personnel, including some key starters, has robbed the defense of the confidence that comes with continuity.

An example: Jordan Jenkins, a freshman, said he hasn't had the opportunity to develop a chemistry with Ogletree.

"I haven't played with Ogletree so I'm just starting to sense what he's like and where he's going to be," Jenkins said. "I'm just starting to get a feel for what he can do and what I can do to help him."

Georgia has had little time with its projected starting 11 playing together in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme.

Even so, that doesn't explain the confusion last week described by Rambo.

"Mostly we were just out of position and not lined up right," Rambo said. "We've just got to line up right and just show our ball skills because we have some guys back there that can make plays."

Jordan Jenkins said the communication problems are "one of the main things we're trying to fix this week."

"This is just a week to fine-tune all the individual stuff," Jenkins said. "We've got to get better because as a team we didn't do well. On a play certain individuals did better than others. We have to work out all the kinks that we had and just get better."

Georgia has not played like the 2011 team that ranked fifth in the nation in total defense.

This year, Georgia ranks 51st in total defense and 52nd with its average of more than 24 points allowed. Even Buffalo and Florida Atlantic scored at least 20 points in losses to the Bulldogs.

Few seemed to notice the defense's lack of dominant play early in the season. The offense was setting a school record by scoring more than 40 points in its first five games. The high-scoring Bulldogs, led by quarterback Aaron Murray and freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, climbed to No. 5 in the Top 25 before falling nine spots in the Top 25 with last week's loss.

Rambo said the defense is missing the confidence it showed last season.

"We've just got to get that swag that we had last year," Rambo said. "I mean, guys running around getting sacks, D-linemen crushing quarterbacks, everybody getting interceptions, everybody just making plays. We've just got to get our swag back into our mentality. That's all it really is, and correct the small things. The small things are what really hurt us.

"We're going to get everybody right. We have to get that swag back from last year. We're going to get it back, I promise you."