North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky lofted a fade to receiver Bug Howard in the right corner of the end zone during the second half of Georgia’s 33-24 win last Saturday.
Howard seemed to have the size advantage at 6-foot-5, considering 5-foot-10 Malkom Parrish was in coverage against him. But with Howard in a jump ball opportunity, Parrish, with the situation being a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, jumped to knock the ball away from Howard’s grasp.
The Tar Heels had to settle for a field goal, which allowed Georgia to head to halftime with a 14-10 lead.
Plays like that showed the good Georgia’s secondary was able to do in man-to-man coverage in its opening game win. But not every man-coverage situation went that way, even if big plays rarely occurred in the passing game.
In the first half, North Carolina had two opportunities to hit streaking receivers down the field. On one occasion, Ryan Switzer got behind Maurice Smith and should have had a touchdown. Instead, Trubisky underthrew the pass, which allowed Smith to catch up and make a play on it.
Later in the half, receiver Austin Proehl beat Juwuan Briscoe off the line of scrimmage but dropped a perfectly-placed ball that would have gone for a big gain. But on the other side of the field, Switzer ran in between Smith and Parrish and burned them deep with what would have been a touchdown if Trubisky lofted the ball up with room to run under.
Seeing those kind of plays in the film room made Georgia’s coaching staff and secondary aware that there are still some issues to work out.
"I think we played well enough to win but I don’t think we met our standard of a defense," Parrish said. "We have a lot to improve on, but that’s all around the country. I think we made that first step to improve."
Smart said that after reviewing the game, North Carolina left many plays on the field in the passing game. If the Tar Heels hit some of those big plays, the game could have had a different outcome.
It’s one reason why Smart said he was "sick" after watching the game tape, because while he thought the secondary had a good game in real time, he realized there was a lot to be desired in hindsight.
"It’s never a strategy to be on an island," Smart said. "We certainly have pressures you have to run. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to be able to cover better. To be a good football team, we have to be able to cover man to man. They got behind us at times. If that happens we give up big plays. We were very fortunate. It’s why I said I was sick after the game."
While Parrish had one of the secondary’s best plays, and has been lauded for his competitive nature in practice and in games, Smart said even he has to do a better job in subsequent games.
Parrish is Georgia’s top cornerback and he’s likely to go against receivers like Howard who will continue to have a height advantage over him. Therefore, covering well and not allowing receivers to separate off the line of scrimmage will be of importance with the scheme Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker have implemented.
"He's got to improve if we're going to play well," Smart said. "He's going to be overmatched by a lot of bigger receivers. He's going to have to play on guys like that. We've got to be able to count on him to make plays, and we've also got to be able to help him some."
Georgia led the nation in passing yards allowed a year ago with 156.5 per game. Georgia’s right on line with this number, considering Trubisky accounted for 156 passing yards last Saturday.
But Georgia’s defense is only going to face tougher competition as the season goes on. At the end of the month, the Bulldogs will face a Mississippi team that put up 313 passing yards in a season-opening loss to Florida State.
The Bulldogs know improvement will be needed after seeing mistakes on tape that they were fortunate didn’t turn into points.
"The standard is to do your part every snap, every snap," Parrish said. "I know mistakes are going to come, but that’s what we’re going to hold each other to."