CHARLOTTE, N.C. – All offseason most talked about Georgia’s offense and what they could be capable of this season. Most talked about the emerging receiving class, and rightfully so, the offense certainly clicked on another level towards the end of last season. It was the defense though that stole the show in Georgia’s 10-3 win over Clemson in the Duke’s Mayo Classic.
Clemson entered the game in a transitional phase. Without quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne, all eyes turned to sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalalei. He played well last year in games against Boston College and Notre Dame but on Saturday night Georgia’s defense sacked him seven times, something that has never happened under Dabo Swinney at Clemson.
“I knew we’d be pretty good and we’re pretty deep,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart in his postgame press conference when talking about the front seven. “I’m proud of them. It just seems like we’re more athletic up there than we’ve been in the past and there’s a lot of speed on the field… Dan [Lanning] did a great job of calling the game tonight and the defensive staff did an incredible job with the gameplan. The kids were into the game and I think we frustrated them and confused them.”
Georgia’s returning talent up-front ended up being the deciding factor in the game as they never allowed Clemson to establish any sort of run game. The Tigers finished with only two rushing yards; yes that is right, two rushing yards counting the yards lost on all of the sacks.
This allowed Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning to get aggressive with the calls that he dialed up. Even in many third-and-long scenarios, Georgia brought pressure rather than dropping eight men into coverage every time.
Six different Bulldogs ended up with those seven sacks. Nakobe Dean was the only player to register multiple sacks. Adam Anderson, Travon Walker, Jordan Davis, Nolan Smith and Jalen Carter also got in on the action. Davis was certainly a key player to watch coming into the game and he did not disappoint in his hometown of Charlotte.
The pressure from the front seven also helped create opportunities in the secondary as well.
“They got a lot of pressure on the quarterback and that definitely helped us out in the back end, linebackers too on our blitzes,” said senior defensive back Christopher Smith, who made the biggest play of the night on a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown. “Coach Lanning called a tremendous game for us.”
This could just be the start for the Bulldogs’ defense too. Georgia most likely will not face another decent offensive line until they have to travel to Auburn on October 9. For leaders like Nakobe Dean though, there is plenty to still work on.
“On defense, we always have the goal of allowing 13 points or less in the game,” said Dean. “We also have the goal of no explosives and they did have some explosive plays that we have to look over and correct.”