ATHENS -- The assumption, seemingly a very safe one, is that Georgia will have a stout defense this season, perhaps one of the best in the country.
But how good, exactly?
The gambling website Bovada has set the over-under line on Georgias average points allowed this season at 11. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was taken aback when he heard that.
Really? Wow, Grantham said. Wow. Thats 11? Wow. Thats pretty stout. Whoo.
In other words, yes, hell take that.
Georgia returns almost every starter from a unit that ranked fifth nationally in total defense last year -- as measured by yards allowed. Thats how the NCAA ranks it. But in Granthams mind, the points allowed stat is the more accurate gauge.
Thats where Georgia looked less impressive in 2011, at least on paper. It ranked 23rd in scoring defense, yielding 20.6 points per game.
That also includes the nine touchdowns scored against Georgia on defense and special teams. But ultimately thats how Georgia will judge its defense this season and whether it is merely good again or takes the next step to greatness.
The way that we look at it is if were on the field, and they score, then its points allowed on the defense. And thats the way we stat it as we go along, Grantham said. Now obviously were a team and we win or lose as a team, but points allowed for our defense, we actually say how many points are allowed with us on the field. It doesnt matter, If they get the ball on the 1-yard line and they score on us, its on us.
But Grantham does look at other measures:
Holding an opponent to minimal yardage on first down, thus setting up second and third down. Georgias best stat last year was in the number of first downs it allowed, with 201. Only Alabama allowed fewer.
Rush defense, although in college the sack yardage is included. The Bulldogs were 11th nationally in rushing yards allowed (101.2 yards per game).
Explosive plays. That was a huge problem in Granthams first year, but last year opponents were more contained. It was a big reason Georgias third-down defense -- the worst in the SEC in 2010 -- rose to third in the nation, holding opponents on third down nearly 72 percent of the time.
If you do those things, then I think youre gonna be hard to score on, Grantham said.
Taking everything into account, does Grantham believe Georgia was a top-five defense last year?
I think we were, he said. I think we were top five.
Head coach Mark Richt had another definition of what would make Georgia a great defense.
You get in a game where youve gotta have a stop right now, this drive you need the stop, great defenses get the stop when you need the stop. Whether its to win the game or get the ball back for the offense to try to win the game, Richt said. Thats whats going to kind of define in my mind whether were a great defense, offense, special teams or team in general.
The defense couldnt always make stops in the SEC championship game or the Outback Bowl, when LSU and Michigan State rallied to wins.
Going purely by points allowed last season -- including scores not the defenses fault -- Georgia yielded 38 points per game in its four losses. It was just 10.6 points per game in the 10 victories.
In the run-up to last years SEC championship game, the mantra among Georgia defensive players was that they felt they were just as good as LSU -- perhaps better -- and just wanted to show it.
I think we were the best defense for a half in that game, Christian Robinson said. And thats not what we want. We want a full game and being able to dominate an opponent.
Indeed, the defensive players largely have held their tongue this preseason. The swagger may be there, but its more private.
Senior inside linebacker Mike Gilliard described the mindset of the defense as very humbled. As a defense, were very humble.
Instead of focusing on grand goals, Gilliard said, the emphasis was on stopping the next opponent and moving on.
Hopefully the end result is we will be one of the best defenses in the country, Gilliard said.
But not quite yet.