September 22, 2009

Martinez, defense feeling the heat

As the points Georgia surrenders continue to rise, so does the heat on defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.

Head coach Mark Richt was asked during Tuesday's press conference if he'd paid much attention to the critics who continue to question the performance of Martinez after the Bulldogs surrendered a total of 78 points in back-to-back games against South Carolina and Arkansas.

Absolutely not:

"I think people don't understand how busy we are. We are working our tails off. I would guess we are working somewhere around 80 hours a week. We are going. We are looking at the next opponent. We are getting prepared for the next game and trying to correct any mistakes that we made in this game, but we are moving forward and constantly doing that," Richt said. "We don't get too caught up in that kind of thing. We are a very, very strong team. The one game that we didn't play that great offensively is the one game we lost; we won the next two. Winning is what it's all about. You are not going to see anyone pointing fingers. You are not going to see anyone do anything other than encourage their teammate and their fellow coach. That's just the way we've been operating here for the last nine years and that's not going to change."

Georgia's defensive numbers aren't pretty.

The Bulldogs rank 97th in total defense (406.3), 108th in scoring defense (34 points per game) and 112th in pass defense (285.5) through three games thus far in 2009.

That's not all.

Dating back to last year's game at LSU a span of nine contests ago, the Bulldogs have allowed 295 points, an average of 32.7 per contest.

Those are numbers that make even the staunchest Bulldog supporter cringe, and why some are blaming Martinez for that slide.

Senior safety Brian Evans has heard the "talk."

"We don't pay attention to it as much as people think but at the same time it is in the back of our heads because we're the people out there playing," Evans said. "It's not all on him (Martinez), but I think that's where a lot of confusion comes with being the defensive coordinator. He's not the one out there making the plays and making the mistakes that we're making."

Still, Evans admits the defense's performance could in the long run affect Martinez's status as defensive coordinator.

"We (the defense) think that we need to play for ourselves but at the same time we need to go out there and show that our coach can get the job done," Evans said. "So far we haven't done that as well as we want to. But there are still nine games to go. We just have to go out and prove to the people that he is worthy of being the coach and we're worthy of being the players."

Defensive end Demarcus Dobbs defended his coach as well.

The Savannah native echoed the same them espoused by many of his defensive teammates, stating that ultimately it's up to them to make the plays.

"He (Martinez) could have a perfect scheme but if the players don't execute that scheme, it looks bad on him when it's really us who are making the mistakes," Dobbs said. "The fingers are pointed at us as players, but the person who gets the more heat is the defensive coordinator. But I think he's doing his job well. Again, he could have the perfect plan, but if the players execute it too late, it's nothing. It's all about how fast you execute the plays."

That's something the Bulldogs occasionally had trouble doing against the Razorbacks and quarterback Ryan Mallett, who torched the Georgia secondary for over 400 yards and five touchdowns.

Evans said part of the secondary's issues was simply players not knowing where to be or knowing what defensive play was being called.

"That was poor execution by us. Some people were playing a certain coverage and another player was playing another coverage," Evans said. "That accounted for some of the big passing yards that they did get."

But while Richt concedes there are certainly issues with Georgia's defense that needs correcting, he continues to point to the turnovers that have put the Bulldogs against a short field. Two of those fumbles - one by Prince Miller (punt) and Richard Samuel - took place in the first quarter deep in Bulldog territory that led to 14 Razorback points.

Opponents have scored 40 points off nine Georgia turnovers this season. The Bulldogs have allowed 102 points total.

"We've had to start playing defense on the six, on the eight, on the 23, on the 42, on the 37. Before the last game we had six times where they started the drive in field goal range; three times we forced field goals and three times they did score touchdowns," Richt said. "We had three turnovers in the first half of the last ballgame. We had a wonderful stop to start the game, and we are going to get great field position, and we fumble the punt. All of a sudden they have to roll back out there and play ball again. Then we fumbled the pitch to Richard (Samuel) and all of a sudden they have to go play defense on the short field again.

"The pick wasn't quite as bad, because they did have the two penalties that pushed them back, but again two more turnovers where we put our defense in a very bad spot. I would love to see what would happen if we don't have to deal with that kind of thing."

Georgia's turnover margin of minus-2.33 ranks last in the SEC and 116th nationally.

"It's a miracle with our turnover ratio that we're 2-1 right now and undefeated in the league. You can look at it a couple of ways. You can be upset about everything, which I'm not pleased with some of those issues, but you also can say if we could just clean up things that are very correctable, who knows how good we can be?" Richt said. "I just want solid improvement. If we just keep getting better and better and better as we go, we are going to have a chance to be pretty good."

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