(Eds: With AP Photos.)By CHARLES ODUMAP Sports Writer
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - The statistics suggest Georgia's defense is the SEC's worst.
Coach Mark Richt has a somber appraisal of the defense, but he opened his critique with the reminder the No. 9 Bulldogs ``played two really good teams, two very good offensive football teams.''
Georgia (1-1) is off this week after splitting high-scoring games with top-10 teams Clemson and South Carolina.
``We're still trying to figure it out as a group,'' Richt said Wednesday. ``Some guys have got it figured out better than others and some guys are still struggling just to line up right. It'll take time. To get two games under your belt and now an open date, it's going to be helpful for those guys.''
Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham are hoping a strong second half in last week's 41-30 win over then-No. 6 South Carolina was a sign the unit found some answers.
Georgia will play North Texas on Sept. 21.
The back-to-back games against two highly ranked teams were rough openers for a young defense that lost seven starters in this year's NFL draft.
Georgia has given up an average of 34 points per game to rank last in the Southeastern Conference. The good news came when the Bulldogs allowed only six second-half points to South Carolina.
``I think they got some positive energy from that because they held them to six points and they also had a goal-line stand there to kind of keep the lead where it was,'' Grantham said.
``I think they felt good about themselves until we got into the meetings on Monday and then we got to see what we needed to do to get better. But to those guys' credit they work hard and they try every time we get out on the field and you do see them improving.''
Some new leaders are emerging to replace such departed NFL draft picks as Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams.
Inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera leads the SEC with 24 tackles. Ramik Wilson, another linebacker, is second with 22 stops. Defensive end Sterling Bailey, only a sophomore, had 10 tackles against South Carolina.
Defensive end Ray Drew and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons made their first starts against South Carolina. Harvey-Clemons recovered a fumble that was forced by Herrera.
Herrera, a junior, has been the one starter Grantham refuses to take off the field.
``I definitely noticed a difference in him the last two ballgames, particularly the last game,'' Grantham said. ``I think the position he's in, we kind of need that and we're kind of banking on that happening. He's a guy who has really worked hard at becoming a better player.''
Richt said freshmen linebackers Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough are showing signs in practice that they will earn playing time, but Grantham doesn't seem willing to have Herrera share snaps.
``The only position that we really didn't roll was inside (with Herrera), and that's a little different position to me,'' Grantham said. ``Amarlo did play all the snaps.''
Grantham, anticipating the follow-up question, added firmly, ``He'll keep getting all the snaps.''
The freshmen, including Carter and Kimbrough, had chances to impress Richt and his staff this week.
Richt said Kimbrough, a top recruit from Indianapolis, has been inconsistent but his peaks have been memorable.
Richt said Kimbrough ``walks around in a hitting position.''
``He's just one of those linebackers who really can get low and play low,'' Richt said. ``He's down in his stance in a good striking position but he moves around that way. A lot of guys will just rise back up and play too high. This guy, he gets under people's pads and when he thumps them he knocks people back. I like the way he plays. He's just got to keep learning.''
Carter still leads Kimbrough in the battle to win more playing time. Both might get longer looks against North Texas.
Grantham said the key is continued improvement following the off week.
``I think you saw improvements in individuals in the last game, relative to the first game, and I think what we've got to do is continue to build on that,'' Grantham said.
``If you do that, you've got a chance to hold guys to low numbers and win the ballgame.''