The first half of Georgia’s 20-17 overtime loss to South Carolina produced a familiar sight for Georgia fans.
On the second defensive series of the game, an opposing receiver streaked open down the left side of the Georgia defense. Last week, it was Tennessee’s Marquez Callaway on a 70-yard touchdown pass.
On Saturday it was South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards, the team’s leading receiver, who ran an out-and-up move, leaving Georgia cornerback Divaad Wilson in the dust for a 46-yard touchdown from quarterback Ryan Hilinski.
Not only was this the second long touchdown given up by the secondary in as many weeks, it was also the only offensive score on the day for South Carolina. In a close game that went to overtime, it looms even larger.
The plays have similarities between them. Both were caused by a defender, Wilson this week and safety Richard LeCounte against Tennessee, coming up and biting on a shorter route by a receiver before allowing that same receiver to streak past them.
“It’s just like eye control,” cornerback Eric Stokes said. “You’ve got to know your team and you’ve got to know your players. I know for a fact that we all trust each other. We’ve just got to do it.”
Even outside of the long play, the Bulldogs had their problems dealing with the freshman Hilinski. Before exiting the game in the third quarter with an injury, he completed 15-of-20 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.
This comes after another freshman, Tennessee’s Brian Maurer, passed for completed 14-of-28 passes for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against Georgia. While adjustments were made and performance improved after halftime, Saturday’s game proved first halves aren’t meaningless.
“We’re going to get shots all the time,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “People are going to take shots on you. That’s part of the game. That’s part of the SEC. They’ve got good playmakers to do that with, so there’ll always be teams taking shots.”
So how does this problem get fixed? As Stokes mentioned, one major factor is better eye discipline from the members of the secondary. The rest of the defense can play a part, too.
“We’ve got to get to the quarterback,” linebacker Monty Rice said. “These wide receivers in this league, they run fast. You can’t cover them forever. You’ve got to get pressure.”
The secondary didn’t struggle the whole game. They fared better after halftime, although that largely came against backup quarterback Dakereon Joyner. The offense, meanwhile, struggled for almost the entirety of the game.
But in a game decided by three points after a pair of overtimes, every play matters and the defense shares in the blame as much as the offense.
“It’s a team effort,” Stokes said. “We did not create havoc. I know for a fact me personally, I could have had a chance at an interception. I just did not capitalize on it. It’s a team effort. It’s not just on one side.”