ATHENS -- The Georgia football team’s defense seems to be ranked No. 1 in the nation in at least one department -- confidence.
It started earlier this week, when the team’s defensive star, Jarvis Jones, proclaimed about vaunted LSU, the opponent in Saturday’s SEC championship game, “I think our defense is just as good as theirs if not better.”
But that seemed modest compared to what safety Shawn Williams said Tuesday, “I think we’re better. I just didn’t want to come out and say that. Yeah, I really do think we’re better than they are. We’ve just gotta go out there and prove it.”
Did Williams worry he was giving LSU some bulletin-board material?
“We’re not worried about giving them anything,” he said. “We’re confident and ready to play.”
LSU has built its reputation on defense. It has annually ranked among the top units in the country, with big names and NFL talent all over.
Georgia, conversely, had to overhaul its defensive staff two years ago after several years of issues. Last year it was about average under new coordinator Todd Grantham, and this year it got off to a slow start, at least in terms of points allowed.
But as the season went on, the Bulldogs moved up the national rankings, and their defense was a major reason -- if not the main one -- that they have won 10 in a row.
Now the Bulldogs are clamoring for some of the respect that LSU has earned through the years.
“I mean, everybody praises LSU defense, but I think I know we’ve got a pretty good defense,” said Jones, who leads the SEC with 13.5 sacks. “We’re not cocky at all. We’re just going to play. We do our job and get out on the field. We like having fun. We love playing football. We’re aggressive. We play just as well as them.”
Jones leads the SEC with 13.5 sacks. Georgia also has the league leader in interceptions, Bacarri Rambo with seven.
“We’ve got great players on our side of the ball,” Rambo said. “We have one of the best pass rushers in the league. We’ve got some good linebackers, some good people in the secondary. So I feel like we’re up there with the LSUs and Alabamas. People are overlooking us because we haven’t been winning these recent years, but now we’re winning so it’s time for us to put Georgia on the map.”
Certainly, it’s hard to compare defenses, especially since they won’t be matched up with each other. But here’s how the SEC title game opponents match up in the stats:
LSU ranks second in the nation in yards allowed, behind only Alabama. Georga ranks fifth, a difference of only 23 yards per game.
And what about the offenses they have played? LSU’s 11 FBS opponents have an average total offense rank of 72nd out of 120 teams, while Georgia’s rank 79th.
But LSU has played Oregon (sixth nationally in total offense), West Virginia (16th), Arkansas (28) and Alabama (31). The only Georgia opponents in the top 50 were Georgia Tech (19) and New Mexico State (48).
Williams was asked why he was so confident that Georgia was better.
“The numbers are there. Numbers don’t lie,” he said. “People are gonna believe what they wanna believe. And right now they don’t’ believe that we can beat LSU. But we’ll see on Saturday.”
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham didn’t seem to have a problem with his players being confident.
“I think we have confidence in our abilities,” he said. “Any time you play this game from a defensive perspective you’re gonna have that kind of confidence when you have the stats we have, and the success that we’ve had. We obviously respect their defense. We respect their team. They’re a quality team, a quality opponent. But we’re gonna continue to go out and play and compete.”
Then Grantham was asked the same question as his players: Did he believe his defense was as good or better than LSU?
“I think they’re a talented team. I think we’re a talented team,” he said. “I think that we’re in the second year of our system here. I’m really proud of the way these guys have competed and progressed, and we look forward to this opportunity, as well as others down the road.”
He paused and smiled slightly.
“That’s what I think,” he added.