Today's era of NCAA Football often features explosive offenses. The casual fan mostly focuses on the scoring unit of a team, with the quarterback often receiving the majority of recognition for wins and all of the blame for losses. Jake Fromm certainly has been no stranger to this, as the Georgia Football team's quarterback. However, it is the defensive side of the football team, that has the potential to truly elite propel UGA to the next level.
The Georgia Bulldogs defense has been phenomenal this season. The Dawgs rank first in the SEC in points allowed with just 10.6 points per game. This number includes the two interceptions returned for touchdowns against the UGA offense. Looking at the stats, the Dawgs lead the conference by a wide margin, with second-place Alabama trailing by nearly five full points allowed per game.
The Georgia Bulldogs also lead the SEC in allowing the least yards with just 267 per game, and a league 86.1 yards per game on the ground. Incredibly, that is nearly 13 yards better than 2nd place LSU.
The Dawgs rank number five against the ground attack and number 17 against the pass. Amazingly the Georgia Bulldogs defense has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this year.
Kirby Smart was recently critical of the Georgia Bulldogs defense in the team's 21-0 shutout victory over Kentucky in the pouring rain. Smart gave these remarks:
"Extremely sloppy in the last game, and you know, it’s sad because you guys control the noise. But when you watch that tape, there’s a lot more concern. 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 by the graveyard that everything is fine and we’re just OK, and we’ve got good defensive numbers, and that’s not the case when you watch the true integrity of it. 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, so, we haven’t been tested in that regard."
Despite Coach Smart not being satisfied, make no mistake about it, the Georgia Bulldogs defense is elite. Only an elite defense can give their team the opportunity to win a game despite four turnovers on offense and two missed field goals. The Dawgs defense only allowed South Carolina to score just 10 points in regulation of that game, despite being put in poor situations constantly by the offense. They allowed just three total points in two overtime periods, despite the ball automatically being placed in field goal range from the start.
The reason coach Smart is so critical of his defense is because that is his expertise and he's a perfectionist. Kirby is very similar to his mentor Nick Saban in that aspect. Another reason is that despite how dominant the Georgia Bulldogs had been, Coach Smart knows there is still room for improvement.
One area that the Georgia Bulldogs defense can improve is forcing turnovers. The Dawgs so far have forced just 1.3 takeaways per contest. Only Vanderbilt forces fewer turnovers in the SEC. UGA has intercepted opponents five times and recovered four fumbles for a total of nine takeaways.
If the Georgia Bulldogs can force more turnovers, the defense could be among the best in school history.
Improvement in the area of pressuring the quarterback and sacking the opposing signal-caller would help to force more turnovers. On one hand, the team is on pace to see an improvement on the 23.0 sacks from last season. The Georgia Bulldogs coaches have dialed up more havoc, but the main reason for the uptick is more players are contributing. In 2018, D'Andre Walker was the only Dawg with more than two sacks. This year six players are on pace to log more than two quarterback takedowns, led by Azeez Ojulari with 3.5 sacks. Yet the team's 16 sacks on the season, place them just tenth in the SEC in the critical stat category.
The Georgia Bulldogs defense has become a specialized unit with head coach Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning using 43 players so far this season. Only 20 of those players are upperclassmen, with just eight being seniors. The UGA defense is compromised of an equal number of 12 sophomores and juniors. Freshmen account for 11 of the contributors. Underclassmen have racked up 11 of the teams 16 sacks. Exactly half of those sacks (5.5) have been compiled by freshmen, a great sign for the team moving forward.
With the Dawgs having so many young players, every practice, every game, and every snap is an opportunity to improve and develop, which is perhaps why Kirby Smart is so hard on them. They will get better and better, which should be a scary thought for the rest of the SEC and NCAA.
A UGA defensive unit that is already elite showing further development, will be a key factor in the outcome of the 2019 season. Should that development happen in rapid fashion, the Georgia Bulldogs young defense could carry the team back to the College Football Playoff and far beyond.