After a lackluster 2016 season, Georgia made it a point to change the culture of its defense. The Bulldogs returned ten starters at the beginning of the season and experts knew it would be a strength of the 2017 Georgia football team. However, experts couldn’t predict the Bulldogs would be this successful. Eight games into his second season, defensive coordinator, Mel Tucker has transformed this defense into one of the best.
Georgia ranks as one of the top defenses nationally and in the SEC. Is it too soon to label them as one of the best? Or are these Bulldogs the real deal?
Senior Leadership Determines Culture Change
The Bulldogs returned two leaders for their senior season that have taken senior leadership to the next level. Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter returned because they felt like the way 2016 ended wasn’t the ‘Georgia way’. Since the decision, these two went to another level. Both exploded onto the scene in 2017 after quiet careers up until now. Carter leads the teams in sacks, with four, and tackles-for-loss, with 5.5. Bellamy is number two on the sack list with 2.5 and five tackles for loss. However, it’s not their numbers on the field that make them special, but their leadership qualities.
Head coach Kirby Smart stressed the importance of senior leadership and how that determines culture change. If the senior leaders push the underclassmen and lead the team, then the players become a whole. The senior leaders are there to be the voices of the team. During practice, Bellamy and Carter are the two guys pushing for more out of the other players. Bellamy said that Smart told them if they practice hard on Tuesday and Wednesday then they’ll win on Saturday. Bellamy and Carter took that to heart and know if they practice hard, then the rest will follow in their footsteps. Since Carter and Bellamy took on this role, the defense plays together and has each other’s backs.
Georgia’s senior leaders wanted to make sure they went out on a high note. The seniors made a check list of things they want to accomplish this season, and each week it seems they get to strike off another goal. Senior leadership is one thing that makes Georgia the real thing, but to have strong leaders they must have a tenacity like no other.
Tenacity at its Finest
The Bulldogs posses an attitude that others strive for. Each play the defense grits their teeth and pounds the offense. Every player fights for each other and makes sure to stop the offense. Determined isn’t a good enough adjective to describe Georgia’s defense. Smart and Tucker want their defense to make teams quit, to feel like no matter what they will no score against the Bulldogs.
Georgia’s taken this mentality and ran with it. Every team the Bulldogs face seem to quit by the third quarter. Georgia shuts down the run game and forces turnovers. The players will not stop until the other team hangs its heads. When they were up 42-0 against the Gators and the second/third string gave up the touchdown, the starters looked pissed. It didn’t matter if they were up by 42 points or not, they started a shutout and it didn’t get finished. Georgia proved to be a real deal when showed how bad it wanted to shut out Florida. With its tenacity and grit, there is something special about this team and it starts with their attitude.
By the Numbers
This section is about Georgia’s defensive statistics through week nine. Georgia ranks as the No. 2 in the SEC and No. 3 nationally in scoring defense. The Bulldogs give up 11.9 points a game just behind Alabama in the SEC that gives up 9.8 points. Georgia ranks as the No. 2 in the SEC and No. 6 nationally in rush defense. On average the Bulldogs hold offenses run attack to just 94.75 yards. The rush attack is Georgia’s strong suit and how it makes most of the teams it faces quit.
Georgia’s pass defense ranks as the No. 2 in the SEC and No. 3 nationally. The Bulldogs give up 157.4 in the air. Dominick Sanders and J.R. Reed are two Georgia’s playmakers in the secondary. Sanders leads the team in interceptions with three on the year and 15 career interceptions. Reed’s a first-year starter and a diamond in the rough. He has 4 tackle-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 3 breakups, 4 quarterback hurries, and 2 fumble recoveries. Reed’s exploded onto the scene after he transferred from Tulsa. He’s all over the field and knows how to make stick a tackle.
The Bulldogs give up 252.1 total yards of offense a game, which ranks No.2 in the SEC and No. 3 nationally. There are so many playmakers on this Georgia defense it’s hard to name them all. However, one that must be mentioned is Roquan Smith. He’s the leading tackler for the Bulldogs with 34 solo tackles, 1.5 tackle-for-loss, 2 breakups, 7 quarterback hurries, and one forced fumble. Smith might not be a senior, but is one of the leaders on the defense.
Georgia is the real deal because you cannot name all the playmakers. Another reason is despite all the playmakers, its all about the team and making them better. It’s a team effort and it shows with their rankings and consistent rankings.
The Real Deal
The Bulldog’s don’t have to be rank No. 1 in everything to be considered the real deal. Georgia’s tenacity and leadership prove that no matter what they will do whatever it takes to win. Smart has the team believing that they can accomplish anything and with that mindset, it makes them great. I expect by the end of the season, the Bulldogs will rank among the best in the country even though they already rank in the Top-3 nationally. Smart’s changed the culture at Georgia and the defense already showed just how fast that culture change can take place.
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