What a year 2011 was for the Georgia Bulldogs. What a year indeed. The Bulldogs started the season 0-2 after a horrific loss to South Carolina, but won their next 10 games to get to the SEC Championship game. That stretch, aided by one of the nation’s best returning defenses, catapulted the team into the preseason top 10.
However, five games into the 2012 season, that stellar defense has yet to make an appearance.
Yes, the Dawgs are 5-0 and are averaging over 47 points scored a game, but last week’s game against Tennessee exposed some serious chinks in the Bulldogs’ armor. Tennessee has one of the better offenses in the SEC, but the fact that the Volunteers scored 44 points on Georgia was a surprise to everyone. The Vols were able to run the ball at will and got the big play when they needed it.
What happened to a defense that held opponents to fewer than 80 rushing yards per game last year and was considered to be among the elite?
PLENTY OF EXCUSES
Some will blame the suspensions for Georgia’s subpar defensive efforts in 2012 and while there is some truth to that, it cannot shoulder the blame. Any defense would perform at less than 100 percent without players such as Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings, but in professional and collegiate football, you make no excuses. Todd Grantham made it a point earlier in the season that Georgia had to play who it had and he expected his players’ best efforts. Yes, the suspensions hurt the defense, but saying they are the reason for a mediocre defense is the same as saying a child failed a test because he didn’t have his crayon. There are multiple crayons in the crayon box and they all perform the same task.
Last season, the Georgia Bulldogs took great pride in their defense. When asked to describe the defense, Georgia coaches used the words “top” or “elite.” This year, the coaches tend to stay away from those words.
“People wanted to talk about our defense and whether it was going to be a great defense,” head coach Mark Richt said at his Tuesday press conference. “What I said was what I’m most concerned about is when the game is on the line, are we going to be able to make the play in the moment of truth?”
Like it or not, in the SEC, teams cannot get by with poor defensive efforts. In football, the mantra many live by is “defense wins championships.” Georgia simply doesn’t have a championship defense at this point.
Most would counter the aforementioned statement with the fact that Georgia is enjoying one of its better offensive years in recent memory.
Georgia currently boasts the SEC’s top offense and it is largely due to the performances of Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Aaron Murray. Though, in a league full of top defenses, can Georgia really rely on its offense to outscore opponents?
The answer is possibly. Games are won by putting points on the board. Numerous teams have taken this route to the national championship game in recent years. Oregon did it two years ago and Oklahoma did the same thing four years ago. Both teams failed to win the championship because they matched up poorly against SEC defenses.
Georgia is an SEC team, so it should matchup with SEC defenses, right? Yes, but that is not my point.
My point is Georgia is performing like a team in the Pac-12 or Big XII. Great offense, but little defense. The teams in those conferences are often viewed as inferior to SEC teams because it is believed that their offenses won’t be as electric against an SEC-caliber defense. That and their defense couldn’t stop their SEC opponent from running up the score.
Georgia, I feel, is in this position. The Bulldogs can score points like the rest of the top offenses, but if they want to win a championship, they need to find the pixie dust that turns the defense into the 2011 version. If not, a Florida or South Carolina may cut their championship run short.