ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s coaching staff has been careful to avoid making excuses for any underperformances up to and including the Bulldogs’ most recent game, where they suffered their first loss of the season against South Carolina.
But defensive coordinator Todd Grantham clearly is relieved to have had last week’s open date to evaluate the miscommunications and misplays that helped opposing offenses accumulate 13 “explosive plays” -- which he defines as any play that covered 24 or more yards -- in the first half of the season.
“We basically had three objectives in the bye week,” Grantham said after Tuesday’s practice. “No. 1 is we had to get some guys healthy. No. 2 is we wanted to get some continuity with the guys that we have available right now. And then the last thing is we took a look at each individual player and said, ‘Here are the things you’ve got to do to improve to make our team better. And if you do that and take a team attitude, we’ll be better.’
“Because we are 5-1 and we’ve just got to continue to play and I think they did that and I’ve seen them get better every day and I think the continuity thing will be good for us as we move forward.”
A well-worn storyline throughout the first half was the numerous suspensions and injuries that caused Georgia to regularly shuffle its lineup in the first half. The Bulldogs have already used six different starting lineups in six games, and that trend could continue this weekend at Kentucky if All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones -- whom Grantham called questionable with a sprained right ankle -- is unable to play.
Grantham credited players like Amarlo Herrera, who juggled multiple inside linebacker roles while Alec Ogletree was suspended for the first four games. In fact, Grantham said that “if Amarlo doesn’t play the position he played, we probably don’t win the Missouri game because he’s that good at what he was doing.”
But all the shuffling certainly contributed to the communication issues, which is why Grantham said he appreciated the opportunity to use the bye week to get his defenders on the same page more often.
“I think the players have got to understand they’ve got to let the plays come to them and make sure that they do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it and I think they’ve done that,” Grantham said, “and I feel really good about where they are and the way they’ve worked and I think we’ll be fine.”
Injured Wildcats: Watching film of Kentucky hasn’t been as useful as normal for Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo because of the numerous injuries the Wildcats have sustained.
Where the offensive staff might typically be able to nail down a defensive back’s coverage tendencies or a linebacker’s rush techniques, Kentucky’s personnel has changed far too frequently for film review to give away much.
“It’s definitely changed a lot, their personnel week-to-week, and obviously we’re looking at some reports of who we think’s going to play and stuff like that,” Bobo said. “But it’s just identifying some things, tendencies, is a little bit difficult because there’s new guys playing in different spots every week. So that’s really the hardest thing.”
Because of the plentiful injuries, the Wildcats’ two-deep depth chart includes four freshmen and a sophomore at the four secondary positions -- which might seem promising to Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray and his experienced receiving corps.
“Hopefully,” Murray admitted. “We’ve just got to be ready to make the plays based on coverages and who’s guarding who. I don’t want to start talking trash. But we’ve just got to be ready to go no matter what we see, no matter who we see.”
Unusual series history: Georgia enters Saturday’s game as a 27-point favorite over the Wildcats -- although the Bulldogs and big point spreads against Kentucky have not been good partners in recent history.
Georgia has a 2-1 record in its last three trips to Lexington, but the average score was just 35-31 Georgia. That includes a 42-38 win in 2008 when No. 14 Georgia entered as a 13.5-point favorite.
“We haven’t had a lot of luck out there in Lexington,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We’ve had some battle royals the last few times we’ve been there and lost one of them.”
The Bulldogs were 30.5-point home favorites over the Wildcats last season, but struggled on offense throughout the game and eventually won 19-10.
Jones questionable: Jones did not practice again on Tuesday and Richt expressed newfound doubt that the All-American will be available against Kentucky after saying Sunday that he expected Jones to play.
“We’re not counting him out yet, but he had been running on the treadmill, the underwater deal, and had done extremely well,” Richt said. “We figured when we put him on land, he would just hit the ground running, literally, and he wasn’t ready to practice.”
Richt said Jones will play against Kentucky if Georgia’s medical staff clears him to play and that he won’t sit out in hopes of keeping him healthy for the following week’s game against Florida. So while Grantham confirmed that he remains questionable for this weekend, he hasn’t ruled him out yet, either.
“Right now he knows what we’re doing, so it’s more of a precautionary thing to get him some rest," Grantham said. "When he’s able to go full tilt and we can get him where we feel like we need him for the game, we’ll get him out there. So we’ve still got Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, so we’ll see how it goes.”