Julian Rochester

Georgia defensive lineman Julian Rochester (5) during the Bulldogs' practice on the Woodruff Practice Fields in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Photo by Steven Colquitt)

Georgia’s defensive line allowed Jake Bentley plenty of time in the pocket for most of the game in Columbia, South Carolina, on Sept. 8. Head coach Kirby Smart thinks it’s time to fix that.

“I know since we’ve arrived, we’ve been pretty good on defense here,” Smart said. “But if you say one thing, you’d say we’ve been insufficient in pass rush.”

The Gamecock quarterback completed 30 of his 47 pass attempts in South Carolina’s 41-17 loss to the Bulldogs. Holding an SEC opponent to 17 points is no small feat, but the fact the Bulldog defense registered just one sack and two quarterback hurries means there is still room for improvement. 

For the players on the front line of Georgia’s defense, improving the pass rush comes down to the defense’s ability to control two other aspects of the game. First, it is important for the Bulldogs to stop the other team from running the ball at its own will. If they can force the opponents to pass, the Bulldogs can open up the opportunity to rush the quarterback.

Once the defense has shut down the run game, the other Bulldog players have to cover the receivers long enough for the linemen to even reach the quarterback. Smart said Georgia has prided itself on stopping the run so far, but now the focus needs to shift a little. 

“We’ve got to be able to be two-way players,” defensive lineman Julian Rochester said. “We have to be able to turn it on when we have to against teams that like to pass the ball, and we have to hold the point and stop the run. It’s a challenge from [Smart] to us to be able to go ahead and make that change.”

There is, however, another factor that comes into play when teams face a defense like Georgia’s. The pass rush that Smart described as “insufficient” can also be easily exploited by opposing offenses if not executed correctly.

“[Quarterbacks] know that it’s kind of hard to block some of our guys down in and down out, so they get rid of the ball quick,” Smart said. “So you have to be careful about how many times you overdo the rush.”

While the Bulldogs survived a conference test against South Carolina without the presence of a dominant pass rush, the games over the next two weeks may necessitate that they find ways to improve. Both Middle Tennessee and Missouri are led by quality quarterback play and the inclination to spread the field by passing the ball.

There have been two wins in two weeks for Georgia, but the amount of time Jake Bentley had in the pocket on Sept. 8 is something that stuck out to Smart. The clock is ticking away for the defense as it works to get better up front, and the experience of the next two weeks will display what strides have been made.

“It’ll be a great opportunity to get better against a team like [Middle Tennessee] that runs a spread offense,” Rochester said. “And then we play Missouri the next week, so we have plenty of opportunities to show off our pass rushing ability and two weeks to get better at it.”

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