Shawn Williams says bluntly that Georgia is a no-excuses kind of defense.
The Bulldogs’ senior safety also says that the identity of that defense doesn’t change regardless of who’s out there on the field.
“We’re going out there to put fear in that other team’s eyes,” Williams said. “We want them to hate having to come back out there against us the next play or the next series.
“That’s a standard we hold each other to.”
Even when four starters are missing.
The No. 7 Bulldogs have played the first two weeks of the season without linebackers Alec Ogletree and Chase Vasser, safety Bacarri Rambo and cornerback Sanders Commings. They get Vasser and Commings back this week, but it looks like it will be at least another week, and maybe two, before Olgetree and Rambo return to the lineup.
Both are among Georgia’s most talented defenders, and both are expected back for the Tennessee game on Sept. 29.
“We prepare every week the same way,” Williams said. “We’ll be glad when we get all of our guys back, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to accept less just because they’re not playing.”
Missouri finished with 371 total yards last week, but was forced into three turnovers by Georgia and held to 4-of-18 on third down. The Bulldogs allowed just one touchdown after halftime in their 41-20 win, and that came in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
And in keeping with this defense’s hallmark a year ago, Georgia didn’t allow any points in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs’ first-team defense last season shut out teams in the fourth quarter seven times during their 10-game winning streak. It appears that they’re going to be equally stingy in the fourth quarter this season.
“We pride ourselves on finishing the game,” Williams said. “You just keep pounding until you see it in the other team’s eyes.”
Across the board, there’s a mental toughness with this Georgia team that maybe wasn’t there a few years ago. It reflects the personality of fiery third-year coordinator Todd Grantham.
“Coach Grantham brings that edge to the field every day, and he demands that we bring it, too,” Williams said.
What was so pleasing to Grantham last weekend was seeing the way some of the newer guys filled in and how they all did their jobs.
“We really played the game with five new starters,” Grantham said, “and what we focus on is that when you’re called upon, you have to be ready to perform.”
Former walk-on Connor Norman was making his first SEC start at safety. Sophomore cornerback Malcolm Mitchell was making his first start on defense, while redshirt freshman Devin Bowman also played extensively in the secondary. And in the front seven, true freshmen Jordan Jenkins and Josh Dawson were rotating in and out of the game.
“It was a team defensive performance, and the fun thing about the game was seeing how everybody understood their roles,” Grantham said.
For instance, on Jarvis Jones’ sack and strip of Missouri quarterback James Franklin, Grantham said there was tight coverage on the receivers, forcing Franklin to pull the ball down and take off.
“Our guys back there were jamming and re-routing things, forcing (Franklin) to scramble and giving Jarvis the chance to make the play,” said Grantham, whose defense forced two fourth-quarter turnovers that led directly to touchdowns.
Jones had a hand in both of those turnovers, and even when the Bulldogs get everybody back, Grantham said there’s no substitute for having leaders like Jones and Williams on the field.
“It’s critical that you have leaders like that who’ve invested so much and have the will to win that they do,” Grantham said. “You’re always going to have adversity, but what matters is how you handle the adversity and whether you have the mental toughness to go play the next play.
“Guys like Jarvis and Shawn allow you to go play that next play.”