Returning duo gets mixed reviews

ATHENS, Ga. -- Saturday's 51-44 shootout against Tennessee was hardly the triumphant return that Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo might have envisioned.

But the two defensive stars -- reinstated Saturday following four-game suspensions to start the season -- didn't necessarily look like guys who hadn't played in a game since January, either.

"It was a relief," Ogletree said after posting a game-high 14 tackles in his return to competition. "I wanted to come out there and make my presence known again."

Just as he did in each of the last five games in which he appeared last season, Ogletree led the Bulldogs in tackles -- plus he broke up three passes and deflected one that produced a Damian Swann interception.

Rambo -- a first-team All-American last year after leading the SEC with eight interceptions -- was second on the team with nine tackles and was in position to recover a key fourth-quarter fumble, although nose guard John Jenkins barely beat him to the ball.

And yet there were also signs of rust from the two defensive standouts.

"If you're listening to the headsets, you hear coaches correct things as they happen," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "There were some things that both Rambo and Tree need to correct."

But such lapses were understandable for players who last saw the field when the Bulldogs lost in overtime to Michigan State in January's Outback Bowl, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.

"I think those guys are talented guys. They're going to help us as we move forward," Grantham said. "We've got to continue to get them some playing time, some snaps, and I think as we do that, we'll get some consistency out of them. But for the first time, I was proud of them coming back and I was proud of our team in general. I thought those guys kept sawing wood and found ways to make plays when they had to."

The Bulldogs certainly had plenty of wood to saw, as a handful of mishaps by Georgia's special-teams units and offense in the second quarter helped Tennessee rally from a 27-10 deficit to take a 30-27 lead just before halftime.

The game turned into a shootout in the second half and, while Georgia's defense surrendered 478 yards off a whopping 85 plays, it also forced turnovers on each of Tennessee's final three drives -- two of which came on interceptions from Sanders Commings, who was able to shift back to cornerback once Rambo returned to play free safety.

So even while Georgia's defense left plenty to be desired against the Vols, they were able to escape with a win in Rambo and Ogletree's return -- and they have confidence that a defense that is finally back at full strength will help them begin to return toward the form that marked their play in 2011.

"Just the leadership those guys have is really big for us," outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "I just can't wait to get them rolling. Obviously this is their first game back, so I don't know how much that affected them, but I'm sure after we watch film and get to practice this week, it will get much better."