- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As the lone senior starter on Georgia's defense, preseason All-SEC defensive end Garrison Smith probably knew before the season that there would be some bumps in the road as the Bulldogs faced a number of highly-ranked opponents in the first half of the season.
The group's struggles have probably been a bit worse than the Bulldogs expected, however, with Georgia ranking dead last in the SEC in scoring defense (33.7 ppg), eighth in total defense (399 ypg) and forcing just three turnovers by opposing offenses to date.
Smith discussed the defensive struggles this week, as well as teammate Ray Drew's recent emergence two seasons after signing with Georgia as a highly-recruited five-star defensive end.
Here is some of what Smith had to say:
What has been your impression of Ray Drew's play lately?
Garrison Smith: He's doing good. I'm proud of him and I'm glad he's doing good. Like I said, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Everybody can't be a Herschel Walker. Everybody blossoms at different times.
Do you think he just needed to develop some confidence? He came here as such a big prospect -- the only defensive end rated higher than he was in 2011 was Jadeveon Clowney -- and it seemed for a while there like it was reasonable to wonder whether Ray would ever pan out.
Smith: Let's be honest, it kind of messes with you when you're a five-star recruit and you get all this attention and love from the media and public about how good you are, and then all of a sudden you come to college and you're nothing no more. You've got to build yourself all the way back up and you're not playing on that level that you want to play on and then you've got the guy right in front of you playing like he's in the NFL already, Jadeveon Clowney. So that would mess with anybody's self-esteem. But that's why it's like a marathon. It's not about how you start, it's how you finish and he's getting better and better, and that's what it's all about.
Did you deal with that at all? You were a U.S. Army All-American, but it was around the end of your sophomore season before you started to make an impact.
Smith: I knew I was going to have trouble because I came out of a program where I was just taught to go play. My coaches [at Atlanta's Douglass High School, which went 1-9 in Smith's senior season] just told me, 'Go do what you know how to do. Make plays.' So I knew I was going to have trouble, but I was just determined to learn what I had to learn to make me a better player. I just knew that in time, I would get it. I'm getting it. I'm still getting better. I'm getting better every day, so it's that sort of situation, same thing. But I knew how my situation was going to be, so I wasn't surprised or depressed or anything like that.
What is the key factor in you guys becoming more effective at generating turnovers?
Smith: Just patience. Just working hard. That's what it's all about. When we get them sacks, we've got to try to strip the quarterback and just think about it.
Is part of it that the defense is so young?
Smith: It's experience. As you get more comfortable, you're able to do different things. When you're so young and so fresh to the game, you're just trying to not make a mistake and make sure you get the person down.
Is it frustrating to you older players on defense that some of the young guys are having to find their way right now?
Smith: It don't frustrate me because I was that guy at one time, so I can't look down on somebody else. I was once in that situation. I've got a very different outlook because I can see things from both sides of the perspective. That's why I don't point the finger at anyone. I point the finger at myself and the defensive line because we've got to get more pressure on the quarterback to take the pressure off of them. That's how I look at things. I don't ever say, 'It's his fault, it's his fault.' It's not their fault. We've got to do better as a whole.
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