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Behind Its Nasty Defense, This Is Georgia's Year to Win the Big One

The Bulldogs have been chasing their next national title for 41 years. This season, one thing is clear: it's theirs to lose.

ATHENS, Ga. — Seven suffocating Saturdays into the season, this is Georgia’s national championship to lose.

The No. 1 Bulldogs are the best team. The deepest team. The most physical team. The team with the most experienced talent, having stacked monster recruiting classes on top of one another for years. The most buttoned-up team, in terms of adhering to assignments. And seemingly the hungriest team, showing a focus and intensity that has not wavered even a little bit while relentlessly steamrolling to a 7–0 record.

This is the year, Georgia. That elusive natty is there on a red-and-black platter for you. You’ve only been waiting 41 years for this, dating back to when Herschel Walker was a running back and not a politician, now here it is.

Georgia football's defense celebrates a stop vs Kentucky

There are significantly flawed teams all over the map, but not between the hedges. Only one of Georgia’s seven games has been decided by a single score, and that was the season opener against Clemson—and even then, it was hard to see the Tigers finding a way to score a touchdown on the ‘Dogs and threaten to win the game. Every other result has been lopsided and not in doubt for most of the second half.

This game Saturday, against undefeated Kentucky, was more competitive than most Georgia has played. The ‘Dogs only led by a touchdown at halftime, though they pushed the margin to 14 on the first drive of the third quarter and were never challenged thereafter. A Wildcats touchdown in the final seconds made the final score 30–13. That TD only mattered to those who had wagers on either side of a spread that floated in the low 20s, but Georgia’s proud defense still was angry about surrendering a season-high two touchdowns.

“That kind of hurt me,” said linebacker Nakobe Dean, who referenced the unit’s motto: Nobody In Our End Zone.

Expanding on that theme: Nobody On Their Level, nationally.

Here’s the thing: No. 11 Kentucky played well. The Wildcats did not turn the ball over. They only had 15 yards in penalties. They converted nine of 19 third downs. Quarterback Will Levis was good. After some initial conservatism, the game plan was pretty creative. Coming into a hostile atmosphere, Kentucky showed up and did not back down.

And the Wildcats still had no real shot at winning. That tells you how far ahead Georgia is of Kentucky, and the rest of the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division, and frankly the rest of the nation. Perhaps Alabama or Ohio State or Cincinnati improve enough as the season goes along to close the gap, but for now the gap is significant.

Georgia is deep enough to be No. 1 with backup Stetson Bennett IV starting the majority of the games and throwing the most passes of anyone on the roster. Starter JT Daniels has only played three games due to injury, and it hasn’t slowed the Bulldogs at all. Bennett burned Kentucky’s very good defense for 250 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions—his third game of the season with more than 200 passing yards and multiple TDs on fewer than 15 completions.

When asked what the former walk-on would say to someone who asserted that quarterback is Georgia's weak link, Bennett responded with the wisdom of a guy who has been around college football long enough to play the role of Baker Mayfield for the Georgia scout team before the Rose Bowl in the 2017 College Football Playoff. “If somebody said that there’s probably nothing that could convince them otherwise,” Bennett said. “So just walk away.”

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The most important thing for Bennett, or Daniels, or anyone playing QB on this team, is to let the defense dominate and don’t do anything to screw it up. It's that good. Best unit in the nation on either side of the ball, and potentially one of the best defenses we’ve seen in a while.

“They are long, athletic, strong, and they scheme up well,” said Levis. “That is the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason.” An offense that had produced 29 plays from scrimmage of 20 or more yards in its first six games produced zero Saturday.

Kentucky’s primary playmakers are receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. Robinson had a career-high 12 receptions—for a season-low 39 yards. He couldn’t outrun the Bulldogs, and he couldn’t make them miss. Rodriguez, the nation’s No. 6 rusher, had seven carries for seven yards. Running between the tackles was so fruitless that the Wildcats eventually just stopped trying.

The reason why it’s all but impossible to dent the ‘Dogs with a power running game is the mammoth presence of tackle Jordan Davis in the middle. He’s 6' 6", 340 pounds—“Godzilla-like,” according to head coach Kirby Smart. “He’s impactful. He’s the immovable object.”

He’s got a lot of company. Davis’s backup and sometimes sidekick when they’re on the field together, 310-pound Jalen Carter, is a problem of almost equal magnitude. Then there is 315-pound Devonte Wyatt, also capable of crumpling an offensive line. Two of Georgia’s behemoth linemen stampeded through to block a Kentucky field goal in the third quarter, with Carter getting credit for it. Wyatt blocked an extra point at the end of the game. Carter and Wyatt also combined for 3 1/2 tackles for loss.

Georgia's Jalen Carter sacks Kentucky QB Will Levis

When an offensive line cannot get push up front for any kind of running game, everything else becomes much harder. And that’s where the rest of the Georgia defense steps forward. The ‘Dogs have future pros at every level of that unit. They run, they hit, they cover, they shed 300-pound blockers like they’re small children.

And they’re eager to learn, according to Smart. He said the defensive unit craves “nuggets” from the coaching staff throughout the week leading up to a game—morsels of information about the opponent’s tendencies, statistics, anything that will give them an edge on Saturday. “They embrace those nuggets,” Smart said.

Georgia now can embrace its annual open date before the Cocktail Party game against Florida Oct. 30. That’s a rivalry game and stuff can happen in rivalries, but the 4–3 Gators appear badly overmatched at this moment.

After that comes a November of light lifting: Missouri, Tennessee, Charleston Southern, Georgia Tech. It’s entirely likely that Georgia’s first serious challenge since that Clemson opener will not happen until the SEC championship game in December.

If Alabama is the opponent, that would certainly spike the blood pressure of Bulldog Nation—the Crimson Tide have inflicted deep wounds under Nick Saban. But as it stands today, Georgia is simply better than Bama. That would be a game the ‘Dogs could and should expect to win.

Really, they should expect to win all of them. This is the year, the path is clear. It’s Georgia’s championship to lose.

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