When fifth-ranked Georgia (3-0, 1-0) kicks off Saturday night (7:45, EPSN2) against visiting Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1), Bulldog defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has one goal in mind and it has nothing to do with Commodore coach James Franklin.
Eliminating big plays is.
In all three of Georgia's games thus far, the Bulldog defense has been hurt by big offensive plays, including a number by Buffalo and Florida Atlantic.
Missouri, meanwhile, connected on touchdown passes of 41 and 69 yards leaving many fans to wonder if this will be an issue for the team the rest of the year.
Linebacker Michael Gilliard isn't overly concerned.
"A lot of the mistakes were miscommunication, that's what I think," Gilliard said. "Guys missed assignments. But we're working on that because that one big play could determine if you win or lose."
So far, that hasn't been the case as Georgia's offense has been spectacular in helping the Bulldogs to their 3-0 start.
In defense of the Bulldog D, Georgia has not exactly been up to full strength.
Defensive back Sanders Commings and linebacker Chase Vasser missed the first two games due to suspensions, along with starting linebacker Alec Ogletree and All-American free safety Bacarri Rambo, who have missed the first three due to suspensions of their own.
Franklin said he won't be surprised with anyone he sees line up for the Bulldogs on D.
"They're all playing. That's how we have to prepare. I read this morning about game-time decisions, but we're going to plan on them all playing," Franklin said. "Their schemes aren't changing. Obviously, if they have all their weapons it's more of a challenge for us. But we're going to plan like they're all playing."
Grantham, while not making excuses, concedes the absences have played somewhat of a role.
"I think anytime you've got guys that are doing things for the first time, there's a newness to it," Grantham said. "You can get some inconsistencies that kind of thing to happen. Big plays occur when there are seams, or if there is a breakdown somewhere."
Take last week's 56-20 win over FAU, for example.
Both of the Owls' offensive touchdowns came as a result of long offensive plays, including a 43-yard scoring run by Damian Fortner and a 48-yard pass to wide receiver William Dukes to set up the second score.
But Grantham remains hopeful.
Although Georgia has had to lean on newcomers, including freshmen Jordan Jenkins, Josh Dawson and Sheldon Dawson, along with redshirt freshman Devin Bowman and redshirt sophomore Connor Norman, the Bulldog defensive coordinator believe the experience they've gained to date will pay off down the road.
"That's the things we've focused on with these guys and will continue to do so as we move forward," Grantham said. "We still continue to get those guys some experience, continue to develop them and try to eliminate mistakes. Really, that's the things we've focused on these guys with, so as we move forward we will continue to get those guys some experience, continue to develop them and try to eliminate those mistakes as much as we can, because if you go back and look at the second half, they came out and did a pretty good job. We've just got to work hard to develop them and make sure we're more consistent."
Linebacker Amarlo Herrera isn't making any excuses either way.
Although he acknowledges suspensions have been a factor, the sophomore doesn't buy into the notion that the absence of a handful of teammates is the main reason there have been some early issues with big play.
"We're trying to win. That's the whole week," he said. "We're working hard, trying to get better, put in a good scheme to win."
Neither does he buy into the notion that last year's brouhaha between Grantham and Franklin will have the defense more focused than he claims it already is.
"I too much don't put emphasis on all that. I just try to do what I'm good at, play football and try to win. I don't pay attention to all the other stuff," said Herrera, who added his only concern is improving his own personal game. "I'm hard on myself. I'm not going to settle for anything I did. I try not to think about last week or what I did. I'm just trying to get better."
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