ATHENS, Ga. -- Shawn Williams didn’t mince words when he met with reporters after Georgia’s Monday evening practice. The senior safety thinks his fellow defensive players aren’t playing with any toughness -- and he’s had enough of it.
“I’m trying to see if I have to just take somebody’s helmet off and slap them and say, ‘What’s going on?’ We’re not playing with any emotion right now, period,” Williams said.
Frustrated by yet another flat performance in the Bulldogs’ 29-24 win against Kentucky last Saturday, Williams said Georgia’s defense is “soft” after ranking among the nation’s top units a season ago.
The Bulldogs lost only two starters from that group, cornerback Brandon Boykin and defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, so this season’s defense carried sky-high expectations into the fall. But the group that started the season without four suspended starters -- All-America safety Bacarri Rambo, cornerback Sanders Commings and linebackers Alec Ogletree and Chase Vasser -- struggled from the outset and Williams thinks their collective effort level has actually decreased.
He used the opening drive against a Kentucky as an example, when the Wildcats immediately drove 84 yards for a touchdown after going 20 games without a first-quarter offensive touchdown.
“In the Kentucky game after the first series, I told them we played soft. They got the ball at the 20 and ran 80 yards right up the middle and I told them when I came on the sideline, I said, ‘Y’all are playing soft as … heck.’ ”
Georgia ranks ninth in the SEC in total defense, allowing 367.4 yards per game -- 90 yards per game more than it allowed a season ago, when it ranked fifth nationally in the category.
“It’s disappointing to us that we can’t provide what we provided last year,” said cornerback Damian Swann, who added that Williams is not alone in his sentiment concerning the defense’s soft play of late. “We didn’t lose much. We lost Boykin, we lost Tyson and that was about it. Everybody else played last year, produced, and we’re not getting what we gave last year. It’s disappointing to us as players, first and foremost, and we know it’s disappointing to everybody else.”
One of the Bulldogs’ emotional leaders, Williams might be more disappointed than anyone -- or at least he was the first player willing to discuss it with such intensity. He said he is unsure how to inject some fire into the Bulldogs’ defensive play, but one solution he proposed is for sophomore inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera to play more.
“If I was the coaches, I can’t tell them what to do, but I’d have Amarlo Herrera in the game more. I wouldn’t bring him out,” Williams said. “I’d leave him and Ogletree in the game. That’s what I want. Me as a player, I want to see Amarlo and Ogletree in the game at linebacker. I don’t want to see anybody else in the game at linebacker.”
“I feel like they’re two guys that will go out and give you all they’ve got, no matter if they mess up or do right. I feel like they’re going to get to the ball. That’s what we need -- get to the ball and tackle.”
Rambo agreed that energy is what has been lacking from the Bulldogs’ defensive play this season, adding that this Saturday’s key game against Florida isn’t the only time it is expected.
“Just getting pumped up to play Florida or play a game period, if you don’t get excited and pumped up about that game, there’s something wrong with you,” Rambo said. “You need to look in the mirror and check yourself and get your priorities in order. It shouldn’t be Florida, it should be any game.”
They will get that test soon enough. The 10th-ranked Bulldogs play the second-ranked Gators on Saturday, with a chance to move into first place in the SEC East at stake.
Williams knows what to expect from Will Muschamp’s physical Florida squad this weekend. He is curious whether his teammates will be able to match that intensity.
“Right now Florida’s playing very physical and they’re going to come out and just manhandle you. So I’m looking forward to seeing what we’re going to do,” Williams said. “Somebody’s going to get punched in the mouth. It’s going to be us or them and whoever gets punched in the mouth is going to have to step back and be like, ‘What do we do now? Are you going to give in or are you going to fight back?’ So that’s point blank, period, what we’ve got to do.”