South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is tackled by Georgia strong safety and former Early County star Shawn Williams during the first quarter of their game three weeks ago. Williams and the Bulldogs' defense was gutted, 35-7.
ATHENS — Call it smoke and mirrors. Call it lucky. Shawn Williams hasn’t been sure what to call the shoddy performances by Georgia’s defense all season — that is, until he finally made up his mind on a label to give it this week.
“We’ve gotta stop playing soft. We’re playing too soft defensively,” Williams told The Macon Telegraph on Monday night during an unprovoked rant to reporters. “That goes for D-line, linebackers, corners, safeties. I don’t know, we’re not playing with the same attitude we played with last year. I don’t know what it is.”
Williams, the former Early County football star who has gone on to become one of the Bulldogs’ top defensive players the last three years at safety, seemed to be frustrated with the fact there are so many question marks on a defense that was fifth in the nation a season ago — and returned a host of starters who opted to come back to Athens rather than go to the NFL.
And for some reason, Georgia hasn’t come close to matching its performance in 2011, this year ranking in the bottom half of the SEC for points allowed (eighth at 24.1 per game) and run defense (10th with a 167.9-yard average). UGA’s defense now ranks 49th nationally heading into Saturday’s showdown with No. 3 Florida.
And Williams, a senior, didn’t hold back while voicing his displeasure Monday.
“It gets frustrating, because I’m sitting here and I’m giving all I got, and I feel like I’ve got some guys that’s not. I feel like that I’ve got some guys that’s in a whole different place,” he told The Telegraph. “(It’s) everybody (on defense). We’ve got a side of the ball that’s seniors and juniors, so it’s everybody.”
Williams further elaborated in an interview with The AP.
“I’m trying to see if I have to take somebody’s helmet off and slap them and say, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Williams added. “We’re not playing with any emotion right now. Period.”
Some of Williams’ teammates — namely cornerback Sanders Commings — didn’t mind being called out. He said Williams is right.
“He wants us to be that top defense — shutting people out, smashing people in the mouth. That’s what all of us want as a defense. But we haven’t really done it this year,” Commings said.
Commings later added that Williams’s remarks were not a surprise to the rest of his team, nor did they feel disrespected by it. He said Williams voiced the same types of comments on the ride back Saturday from Kentucky, where one of the statistically worst offenses in the SEC put up 24 points on UGA — and had the ball on the final series with a chance to win before UGA prevailed, 29-24.
“I remember the Kentucky game, the first series, I told them we played soft,” Williams told The Telegraph. “(Kentucky) got the ball at like the 20 and ran the ball 80 yards up the middle. And I told them, ‘Y’all are playing soft.’ ”
Coach Mark Richt was asked about Williams’ critical comments on the defense during Richt's weekly meeting with members of the media Tuesday. Needless to say, he appreciated Williams’ passion — he just wishes he had kept it in house.
“I think Shawn is a real passionate guy. I think he loves Georgia and loves his team and wants us to play the best we can possibly play. I think (his comments on Monday) were more public than you would like, but I don’t think he meant any harm by it. I think his teammates know that, so it’s really not an issue,” he said. “I did talk to him this morning about it. It was more of him coming to me. I think he read the comments and didn’t like not necessarily how it was reported, but when he read it himself, that’s really not the tone and what he was trying to communicate in his heart. He’s an emotional guy, and he wants to have success, and he wants to try to help motivate not only himself but his teammates to play better. So, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you’d just as soon not have it as public as it was. (but) that’s how he felt about it, so he has a right to say it.”