The Georgia defense did enough on Saturday night to give the team its first victory in the Georgia Dome in 10 years. With that being said, the defenders and their head coach realize they’ve got plenty to work on as they move forward.
The Bulldogs on defense had their moments in holding the high-flying Tar Heels to 24 points with no scoring in the opening and closing quarters, but North Carolina had several chances to make them pay.
North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky had a couple of deep passes that started with his receivers getting behind the Bulldogs in coverage but ended with a poor throw from the junior. Running back Elijah Hood thwarted would-be tacklers several times and averaged 8.4 yards per carry entering the fourth quarter before only taking three carries in the final 15 minutes.
The defense’s biggest play -- a safety by linebacker Roquan Smith -- came after a questionable ineligible player downfield call followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora backed the Tar Heels up deep in their own territory.
“There were some points that (North Carolina) left on the board,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “There were several times that if they get in the red area and get touchdowns, the game is different.”
Smart was content with the defense’s play in the opening game but will not be satisfied with getting similar results going forward.
“We're very proud of the way the kids competed in the game, (but) there are a lot of areas that we need to improve on,” Smart said. “We've got to tackle better. It's always your fear the first game that you don't tackle well, and that's exactly what it was.”
Georgia outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter agreed with Smart’s assessment on defense. He said his biggest takeaway was to work on his technique, specifically his hand placement when sizing up the opposition. He admitted he was just a second too slow on making a play a few times, which is something his parents quickly relayed to him after the game.
Carter and fellow outside linebacker Davin Bellamy didn’t take Trubisky to the turf at all on Saturday. In fact, freshman defensive lineman David Marshall had the only sack for Georgia. Smart said it was a product of the defensive play-calling at times, saying the team’s decision to drop back in coverage often gave the Tar Heels’ offensive line the advantage.
“When we bring pressure, we usually get pressure,” Smart said. “It's a decision of how many times you want to do that in the game.”
Regardless of the reason, the lack of sacks in one game isn’t troublesome to the junior Carter.
“Sacks are great and all, but it really comes down to how good the team did,” Carter said. “We're going to play hard and try to get sacks, but we're going to do it within the defense. We're going to get our pressures within the defense.”
Carter and Bellamy will be counted on to help pressure quarterbacks due in large part to inexperience on the Georgia defensive line. With the graduation of Sterling Bailey, Chris Mayes and James DeLoach, the Bulldogs up front in 2016 are young and unproven. As a result, the linebackers will need to step up early on to make the opposition uncomfortable on passing plays.
With 11 regular season games to go, Georgia’s defensive players understand there is plenty of room for improvement. Carter said the tangle with the Tar Heels was a great opening game for the team, saying it proved as a true mental test for the entire four quarters.
But no matter if it’s North Carolina or Nicholls State, Carter said the way the defensive players perform falls on themselves, not the 11 men across the ball from them.
“If we just go out there, play our style of ball and play to our potential, we can outplay anybody,” Carter said.