Last year, through seven games, the Bulldogs had given up 8 rushing touchdowns and were allowing 136.28 yards per game to opponents on the ground. Not too shabby, but that number included 275 yards to No. 6 LSU in a 36-16 road loss. Georgia would give up 170 rushing yards in their next game versus Florida but came out victorious, 36-17. However, in their loss to Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship game and to Texas in the Sugar Bowl, the Dawgs run D gave up 157 and 178 respectively.
Fast forward a year later, the Georgia defense has yet to give up a rushing touchdown through seven games in the 2019 college football season. What a difference a year makes. That Dawgs’ D also is tops in the Southeastern Conference as well as nationally in several statistical categories.
The Bulldogs rank first in the SEC and 5th nationally in points allowed and are giving up a paltry 10.6 points per game.
Georgia also ranks first in the SEC in yards allowed per game, giving up just 266.7. That puts them at No. 7 in the country. But where they really shine is rush defense. The Dawgs have been stout up front only allowing opponents to rush for an average of 85.71 yards per game. That is tops again in the SEC and 5th best in the country. Teams are just averaging 3.02 yards per rushing attempt against UGA and are finding it very hard to make their way down the field running the ball.
However, is it too good to be true? Kirby Smart was quick to tamper praise of the defense in his Tuesday press conference earlier after practice during the bye week last week when asked if they are playing as well as the numbers and stats indicate.
“No, not close. We were extremely sloppy in the last game (vs. Kentucky), and you know, it’s sad, because you guys control the noise. But when you watch that tape, there’s a lot more concern,” said Kirby. “Tackling, gap fits, if you went to a coach and said ‘Watch this game,’ they would come in and say, ‘That is atrocious, tackling, fits, eye discipline, leverage, blockers.’ But walking around, whistling past the graveyard that everything is fine, and we’re just OK, and we’ve got good defensive numbers—that’s not the case when you watch the true integrity of it.”
Coach Smart emphasized that you cannot judge how good the Georgia defense is or isn’t just based on statistics and that the weather in the Kentuck game also was a factor.
“You can’t judge it based on, number one, statistics. You can’t judge it based on a kid playing in the pouring down rain that’s not a quarterback,” said Kirby. “So we haven’t been tested in that regard. And we’ve got to get better, and that’s what we’re doing this week.”
SEC StatCat posted a ranking of the conference’s most successful offenses entering week 10 of the college football season on Twitter on Tuesday. Four of the seven teams Georgia has faced have offenses in the bottom half of that list… in fact, four of the worst six in the SEC.
As you can see, looking at the offenses they have faced, the Bulldogs defense hasn’t been truly tested, but that will change today. Georgia will face a dangerous Florida Gators wide receiver corps and a redshirt junior quarterback in Kyle Trask who just doesn’t make “boneheaded” mistakes per junior inside linebacker Monty Rice.
“I just think they have better players than we have played so far this year, in my opinion,” Rice said Tuesday during his post-practice interview. “Especially all over the field, especially at the receiver position. They are all fast, make big plays. So you know it’s going to come down to good pass coverage, good pass rush and stopping the run.”
Rice added, “I don’t think we’ve faced a quarterback as good as (Kyle) Trask this year, yet, so it’s going to be a good challenge. Just overall, watching him, he doesn’t make a lot of bonehead mistakes. “
Rice’s teammate, redshirt sophomore cornerback Eric Stokes, echoed his sentiments on the depth of the Gator’s receivers.
“I know they can rotate, rotate, rotate, and just keep moving… They all show something different,” Stokes said on Tuesday. “So, you have to prepare for each one differently.”
Kirby Smart also applauded and praised Florida’s wide receiving corps this past Tuesday in his post-practice press conference.
“Yeah, they have some good matchups, they’ve got the ability to put, they’ve got good players, their skill guys are really talented. It’s probably past six, because, they have seven or eight, especially with getting Toney back, it gives them added dimension. Fortunate for us they can’t have but three or four of them on the field, but they put them in locations, they move them around,” said Kirby. “He does a good job creating matchup issues across the field. At the end of the day you have to cover people and play them, you can’t trick them. You have to go out there and cover them and play them. Every game they’ve been in, LSU and Auburn, there’s been one-on-one matchups all over the board. You gotta win more of those than you lose.”
And I think it is through the air where the Dawgs will be tested and not necessarily via the ground in today’s game. Georgia’s strength, defending the run, is Florida’s weakness on offense. The Gators just don’t run the ball well compared to the rest of the SEC. Out of 14 conference teams, Florida is 11th in yards per attempt with 4.30 and average just over 142 yards per game on the ground through 8 games this season.
Josh Hancher does a good job of pointing this out in his DawgStats vs. GatorStats… a tale of two tales from Thursday.
So what is your take on Georgia’s defense? Are they as good as advertised?