ATHENS -- Todd Grantham’s name came up very early in a live online chat that Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity held Tuesday with fans. And it didn’t come up the way Grantham would have preferred.
“With Coach Grantham now making $825,000/year, do you feel it’s fair to expect him to at the very least field a team in year 4 that does not resemble a Chinese Fire Drill pre-snap?” wrote a fan calling himself Bart. “And I think it’s also fair to say that youth cannot be used as an excuse, considering last years upperclass-led defense faced the exact same problems week in and week out. Thoughts?”
McGarity handled it delicately.
“Bart -- thank you for the comment. We are very confident in Todd’s ability to lead our defense.”
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Two years ago, Grantham was the toast of Georgia, the architect of the nation’s fifth-ranked team, completely turned around from the struggling unit he inherited.
These days, however, Georgia’s defense is struggling, and a bit more than expected with a young and inexperienced group. The Bulldogs rank 66th nationally in yards allowed and are tied for 99th in third-down defense, which has been the team’s biggest weakness.
To be fair to Grantham, his defense has faced three teams ranked in the top 10 this season. But the performance last Saturday against Tennessee was discouraging, particularly in the second half, when the Volunteers scored touchdowns on four of their final five possessions.
Grantham might be known for his fire on the sideline and during practice. But he doesn’t call out his players (or himself) in the media, and behind the scenes players say he has been more calm and technical in his criticism.
“Every team’s different. You still get on them as a coach, but I think you’ve got to show them why,” Grantham said.
To that end, Grantham pulled tape of about 30 players from the Tennessee game, showing them to his players at their weekly Monday meeting.
“Situations that came up in the game to show ‘Here’s the way we want it done,’ ” Grantham said. “Maybe even show, ‘This is your resume, this is your expectations, is this what you want out there?’ ”
Effort is not an issue, Grantham emphasized. It’s just about knowledge, execution and attention to detail.
Those are things that can be blamed on youth. Five true freshmen have started at least one game this year, including three in at least every game. The team only had four returning starters, and one of them, junior cornerback Damian Swann, has struggled.
“We’ve just got some young guys, and they’ve gotta stop playing like they’re in high school and grow up,” senior defensive lineman Garrison Smith said. “It ain’t got nothing to do with coaching.”
It was pointed out to Grantham that he’s a competitor and obviously would want his defense’s stats and rankings to be better.
“I want to win,” he said. “And we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do to win. And we’ve gotta play the game we want to play in order to win.
“To me, coaching’s about developing. And I think we’ve got some young guys that are talented, we’ve just gotta develop them, and let them understand, ‘Here are the things that you need to do to be better.’ And if we do that, we’re gonna be fine.”
Despite all the issues, Georgia is still 4-1. It’s still ranked No. 7 in the country. Most of the credit goes to the high-powered offense, but the defense has at least made enough stops. It happened at the end of the game against South Carolina and LSU. And while that wasn’t the case against Tennessee -- whose tailback just dropped the ball in overtime -- Georgia’s defense is hanging its hat on what it did in the first half, holding the Volunteers to a field goal.
“They’re not scoring more than we’re scoring, so we’re doing something right,” junior inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera said.
What is Grantham emphasizing?
“He emphasizes that we step it up and get working,” Herrera said.
So he actually is a bit demanding?
“He always is. He’s a coach,” Herrera said. “Who wants to get that many points scored on them?”