With the departure of Mel Tucker, the biggest question surrounding the Georgia football program was how well the defense would execute under new defensive coordinator Dan Lanning.
Through nine games, Georgia’s defense has only given up 91 points total, so it’s easy to say that they are performing better than expected.
On Wednesday, the first-year coordinator was nominated for the Frank Broyles Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top coordinator.
Georgia’s defense has accomplished a lot under Lanning this year. Going into the game against Auburn, Georgia leads the SEC in scoring defense at 10.1 points per game, which is No. 2 nationally. The rushing defense is No. 4 nationally averaging only 74.6 yards per game, and Georgia ranks No. 5 in total defense only giving up 260.3 yards per game on average. The Bulldogs’ defense is also the only FBS team to not allow a rushing touchdown through nine games.
This year’s Bulldog defense is nearing elite levels and is en route to being one of the best in program history.
Head coach Kirby Smart gave credit to his first-year defensive coordinator and praised him for his efforts thus far.
“It’s the buy-in on that side of the ball,” said Smart. “We’ve been playing a lot of players, the camaraderie, the defensive staff. Dan and his staff have done a great job of putting plans together, and the kids have executed them.”
A few weeks ago, Smart made a comment about a lot of guys getting playing time, and how the defense has different rotations for different situations. And if you look at Georgia’s depth chart, this year’s team stacks up deep defensively. Lanning is also getting the job done with a mix of players who were all not the same talent level coming out of high school.
Safety J.R. Reed, cornerback Eric Stokes, linebacker Monty Rice, and nose guard Jordan Davis were all 3-star recruits coming out of high school, and now all of them are some of Georgia’s biggest playmakers on defense.
So far this season Rice leads the team in tackles with 56 and is tied with Mark Webb for solo tackles with 22. Stokes leads the team in pass breakups with eight, followed by Reed with five. Davis has shown his athleticism this year, especially against Florida when he made a pivotal play late in the game and was credited with a half-sack.
“We’ve got a bunch of dudes on defense who can make plays,” said Rice. “We don’t necessarily have to have superstars. I’d rather have 10, 11 really good dudes than one superstar. But that’s kudos to our coaches and how they recruit.”
It’s not just those four that are making plays. Lanning has a plethora of guys who have proven themselves. Redshirt sophomore Azeez Ojulari leads the team with 4.5 sacks, and QB hurries with 25. Guys like Nolan Smith, Quay Walker, Malik Herring, Tae Crowder, and Richard LeCounte all have made big plays for the Bulldogs this season.
Monday, Smart recalled to when he first met Lanning and commented on what great qualities he has.
“Well, I’d seen that before I ever brought him in,” said Smart. “He worked at Alabama with us. And I’d seen his ability to interpret information, to relay information to coaches and just work with him. And when you work with somebody as many hours as we spend up here, you find out a lot about them, their work ethic and what they’re all about. And he was somebody that we had on our radar for a long time, and he went and was successful at Memphis, did a great job coaching there. So he was an easy hire to come here as our outside backers’ coach. And since he’s been here, he’s done nothing but lead and do a good job and continues to demand and command the respect of the players. And players like him, and he does a good job, so he and Schumann have both done a good job of that.”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa7MiKnfeic
After Lanning was promoted, defensive players weren’t sure of what to think because he had never been a coordinator before, but they instantly found out about his passion and energy for the game.
“We loved the energy he had,” said senior defensive lineman Michael Barnett. “When he became defensive coordinator, I saw the energy and everything. He was really energetic, and we’re prospering with him as our defensive coordinator.”
Georgia’s defense plays a very inconsistent Auburn offense this Saturday, and the Bulldog faithful hope Lanning can rally his squad once more to play lights out.
Georgia takes on Auburn on the plains in Jordan-Hare Stadium at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday on CBS.