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Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops knows what a national championship defense is supposed to look like. He was the defensive backs coach on Miami’s national championship team of 2001. In 2012 he was Jimbo Fisher’s defensive coordinator. The following year he became Kentucky’s head coach but the defense he left behind led Florida State to the 2013 national championship.

So I recently asked Stoops if Georgia, who beat the Wildcats 30-13 on Oct. 16 in Athens, had what was, in his estimation, a national championship defense.

“Oh yeah,” said Stoops, now in his ninth season at Kentucky. “The problem is that when they take a guy out, the guy they put in is just as good. They are relentless.”

After beging dominated by the Georgia defense (40-13) Sept. 18, South Carolina coach Shane Beamer was asked if the Bulldogs were doing something special from a scheme standpoint.

Beamer could only give a wry, frustrated smile. 

"They've got like, 100 five star players on their defense. They have a 340 pound defensive lineman (Jordan Davis) who can run faster than anybody on this call (Zoom)."

No. 1 Georgia leads the nation in scoring defense (6.6 ppg), total defense (207 yards per game), rushing defense, (64.9 ypg), and passing defense (144.9 ypg) as the Bulldogs travel to Jacksonville to play the Florida Gators on Saturday.

Should the Bulldogs win, and they are two-touchdown favorites, they will surely be in the top spot when the first set of rankings are released by the College Football Playoff selection committee on Nov. 2.

Right now there are 127 first-place votes in the AP and Coaches poll combined. Georgia has all of them

Georgia is getting that respect in very large part because of a defense that some, who should know, believe is one of the best—if not THE best—in the football history of Georgia football, which started in 1892.

So who will stand up today and say this is one of the best defenses to ever wear the Red & Black?

How about Vince Dooley, Georgia’s Hall of Fame head coach for 25 years (1964-1988)?

“We had some great defenses but this defense is truly remarkable,” said Dooley, who won six SEC championships and one national championship as the head coach of the Bulldogs. “Our best defenses back then would have four or five really outstanding players. This defense just brings in wave after wave of great players. There is no drop off when new guys get into the game. Kirby (head coach Kirby Smart) and his staff have done an outstanding job of recruiting and developing players.

“The other thing that catches your eye is the speed and athleticism,” Dooley added. “You look at that front seven and wonder how many of them will be drafted. Right now I’d have to say all of them.”

Nose tackle Jordan Davis, checking in at 340 pounds, is simply un-block-able and the fact that he has to be double teamed on every play opens up opportunities for a number of other players on the Georgia defense—like linebacker Nakobe Dean.

The legend of the 2021 Georgia defense began back on Sept. 4 when the Bulldogs held Clemson, which has been to the CFP for six straight sasons, without a touchdown in a 10-3 win in Charlotte. Clemson, as we would discover later, is not very good on offense. Still, three points is three points.

Georgia’s defense did not give up a touchdown until it was mop up time in a 40-13 win over South Carolina on Sept. 18. Then Georgia posted two straight shutouts of Vanderbilt (62-0) and Arkansas (37-0).

Kentucky was 6-0 and ranked No. 11 when it lost 30-13 in Athens. Coach Mark Stoops called a timeout to allow his team to score a touchdown on the game’s final play of the game.

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People who have watched a lot of Georgia football compare this group to the early 1980s defenses when the Bulldogs put together a four-year run of 43-4-1 that included three SEC championships and one national championships.

Those defenses included Jimmy Payne, Eddie “Meat Cleaver” Weaver, Freddie Gilbert, Frank Ros, Scott Woerner, and Terry Hoage, just to name a few.

“This defense compares very favorably with the early 80s teams, which were some of our best,” said Jeff Dantzler, a long-time Georgia football historian. “That’s particularly true of the front seven. We’re only halfway through the season but this group has a chance to be the best ever.”

There are other defenses in Georgia history that should at least be in this conversation.

The 1968 defense had two future Hall of Famers in safety Jake Scott and defensive lineman Bill Stanfill along with Billy Payne and Steve Greer That team gave Dooley his second SEC championship.

The 1975 and 1976 “Junkyard Dawgs” where given that name by Erk Russell, Georgia’s legendary defensive coordinator for 18 years. Russell gave them that name because they weren’t big but they were mean and tough. They also had a human tackling machine at middle linebacker named Ben Zambiasi. He still leads Georgia in career tackles with 467.

Job 1 for the 2021 Georgia defense is to help get this team to Atlanta and the SEC championship game. Win there and the Bulldogs advance to the College Football Playoffs. Georgia has not won a national championship since 1980 when the Bulldogs went 12-0 behind freshman running back Herschel Walker.

That’s the ultimate goal.

This Georgia defense is also chasing a place in history. The gold standard of SEC defenses is the 2011 Alabama team that gave up only 8.2 points and 183.7 yards per game. The Crimson Tide team lost to LSU 9-6 in the regular season but avenged its only loss by beating LSU 21-0 in the BCS championship game.

It appears that No.1 Georgia and Alabama are headed for a Dec. 4 showdown in Atlanta. The Bulldogs lost to Alabama in the 2017 national championship game in Atlanta. The following year Alabama wiped out Georgia’s double-digit lead and beat the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game.

That’s a lot of bad history for Georgia against Alabama. So inquiring minds want to know: Is this Georgia defense good enough to give the Bulldogs and their fans the breakthrough they so desperately want?

FIVE GREAT GEORGIA DEFENSES

The current Georgia defense on track to become one of the best—maybe THE best—in school history. Here are five others that have made their mark over the years.

1968: DT Bill Stanfill, DE Billy Payne, DL Steve Greer, S Jake Scott. Won SEC championship. Went 8-1-2, 5-0-1 SEC (tie was to Tennessee). Recognized in Litkenhous poll as national champions.

1976: The “Junkyard Dawgs”: DT Ronnie Swoopes, LB Ben Zambiasi, S Bill Krug; DE Lawrence Craft, DE Dicky Clark. Beat Alabama 21-0 on the way to an SEC championship. Lost to Pittsburgh and Tony Dorsett in the Sugar Bowl.

1980: DT Jimmy Payne, DG Eddie “Meat Clever” Weaver; LB Frank Ros; S Scott Woerner. Went 12-0 and won the national championship. Had three shut outs and never gave up more than 21 points in a game.

2002: DE David Pollock, DT Johnathon Sullivan, LB Boss Bailey, LB Thomas Davis. Went 13-1 (only loss to Florida) and beat Arkansas in SEC championship game.

2019: DT Tyler Clark, LB Monty Rice, CB Eric Stokes, S J.R. Reed, S Richard LeCounte. Georgia was No. 1 in scoring defense (12.6 ppg), No. 1 in rushing defense (74.64 ypg), and No. 3 in total defense (275.7 ypg). The Bulldogs finished 12-2 with an upset loss to South Carolina and a loss to LSU, the eventual national champion, in the SEC championship game.

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