Guerry Clegg commentary: Georgia must play better defense under Pruitt

January 18, 2014 

Georgia Pruitts Challenge Football

Jeremy Pruitt, left, is introduced as Georgia's new defensive coordinator by head football coach Mark Richt during an NCAA college football news conference on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, in Athens, Ga. The former Florida State defensive coordinator, who helped lead the Seminoles to the 2013 BCS championship, said he would build relationships with Bulldog players to build their trust. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

DAVE TULIS — AP

What began as guarded hope for Georgia fans turned into unbridled euphoria.

"Wait. Let's get this straight. We're rid of Todd Grantham AND we get Jeremy Pruitt, the guy whose defense just won the national championship?"

Glory, glory hallelujah.

So long, busted coverages in the secondary. Farewell to arm tackles, or worse yet, the flying missile tackle. No more 99-yard touchdown passes on third-and-14.

Oh, and goodbye to one other thing …

Excuses.

Mind you, the transition from Grantham to Pruitt can only be an improvement. Grantham had four years to rebuild Georgia's defense. But by the time he left for Louisville, the defense wasn't appreciably better than it was before his arrival despite his blustery claims. Even that one fairly decent year deserves an asterisk. The Dogs finished fifth in the country in total defense in 2011. But they gave up 155 points in their four losses. They shut down LSU in the first half, then surrendered touchdowns on four of five possessions, not counting the final kneel-down.

But who hired Grantham? That would be Mark Richt, the head coach. Richt interviewed every expert on defense short of Donald Rumsfeld. After trying to land Alabama's Kirby Smart, Virginia Tech's Bud Foster and LSU's John Chavis, Richt settled on Grantham, whose resume was far from sparkling. Except, of course, when Grantham himself was touting it.

Richt and Georgia fans hope Pruitt -- his fourth defensive coordinator -- is the answer. He'd better be, or else he might not have the opportunity to fire a fifth one.

Pruitt inherits a fair amount of talent. But the Dogs have always had a fair amount of talent on defense. Geno Atkins. Justin Houston. Brandon Boykin. Jarvis Jones. Alec Ogletree. Akeem Dent. Reshad Jones. And many more.

But that talent has rarely translated into production under Richt. There could be many reasons for that, but none of them really matter. The game is about results. Richt has been Georgia's head coach since 2001, and he's yet to have a great defense. A few pretty decent ones here and there. But nothing like what Alabama, Florida and LSU have had.

At what point is Richt himself exempt from accountability.

Hiring Pruitt from Florida State has been hailed as a bold move and a coup. Maybe it was. Or maybe Richt just got lucky and found a rising star eager to make a move.

Pruitt's task is pretty daunting. As mentioned, Pruitt will have some talent with which to work. Defensive end Ray Drew and linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd could be dominant pass rushers. Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera are solid inside linebackers. Pruitt has to sort out the mess that is the secondary. Every upperclassman has underachieved -- Damian Swann, Corey Moore, Josh Harvey-Clemons. Compounding matters is that Harvey-Clemons will miss the season opener against Clemson for the second straight year for disciplinary reasons. This being his second suspension will be for three games, along with having already missed the Gator Bowl. Ogletree's career at Georgia was equally star-crossed.

Swann and Moore need to become more dependable leaders. But first they must become dependable players. Tray Matthews could become a great player if he can stay healthy. Shaq Wiggins, Brendan Langley and Quincy Mauger are young players who are going to have to grow up in a hurry.

The Dogs can't afford them any longer learning curve. Five of the front seven might be heading into their final season at Georgia. Drew, Wilson, Herrera and Sterling Bailey will be seniors. Jenkins will be a junior who could move up high on the NFL draft boards.

With so many weapons on offense, the defense doesn't have to be great, just good enough to hold up. But Pruitt doesn't have much margin for error. Neither does Richt any more. --Guerry Clegg is an independent columnist. He can be reached at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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