There has been so much attention paid to the Georgia offense to start the season. We knew the offense needed to score more than the 24.5 points per game it did last season. Then the starting quarterback got hurt on the first series of the season to create a change that put a local player in the starting lineup.
Maybe after Saturday’s game, we were focused on the wrong side of the ball. After watching Georgia stymie Notre Dame’s offense, one we thought was pretty good, maybe it’s the defense we should concentrate on.
What if Georgia has a dominant defense this season? Does head coach Kirby Smart, a defensive coach, have the type of defense that could make his team relevant on a national level?
Georgia had a lot of starters coming back this year, which is always a plus. The defense still needed some of those starters to get better. It’s one thing to have experience, but college football is about getting better. And after what we saw Saturday in South Bend, Indiana, maybe that’s happening.
We were confident Roquan Smith was a star at linebacker, but it was so important for the players playing around him to get to that next level. We’ve waited on Lorenzo Carter to live up to his potential. He’s a lanky player with great athleticism, but it was like he held back from becoming great.
You can bet Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush will never forget Carter, who made his Wimbush’s miserable most of the night. Carter and Davin Bellamy, another linebacker who had yet to break out, were disruptive and dominated the game.
The Bulldogs also got a great game from J.R. Reed, a transfer from Tulsa. Plus, freshman Richard LeCounte has shown great promise in his first two games.
So, could this Georgia defense be the difference this season? The hope must be there that the offense will, in fact, score more than the 24.5 points per game from last season. But what if the Georgia defense can be one of the best, like the second-best group in the SEC?
Georgia’s defense will be tested this week by Macon’s own Chris Hatcher, who coaches Samford. You know the Hatch Attack will have something for the Bulldogs. Then next week a bigger test, as Mississippi State’s talented quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald, will head to Athens.
Fitzgerald is a dual-threat quarterback. He finished third in the SEC in rushing last season. Fitzgerald might be the best quarterback the Bulldogs face this season. If the defense contains Fitzgerald, Georgia will win, probably easily.
Tennessee’s offense is a work in progress. The Volunteers still are not certain about the quarterback position. They have a good running back in John Kelly, but they’ve lost their top receiver in Jauan Jennings. They’ll show us more this weekend in Gainesville against Florida.
And maybe then we’ll see something from the Gators’ offense, which was non-existent against Michigan. You could say the same thing about Auburn last week against Clemson.
Will these teams be able to easily score against Georgia, even later this season?
This is not to say Georgia is a perfect team. Any team that has 12 penalties, as Georgia had Saturday, must improve. There are other issues. Jake Fromm looked more like a freshman last week. That’s OK. That’s expected. The receivers still must stop dropping passes. And offensive coordinator Jim Chaney must lose the page in his playbook that includes the "wild dog" plays and simply run the ball more.
But when a team has a defense, great things are possible. The emergence of Carter and Bellamy is a great sign Smart is getting the type of defense he wanted when he took over the program almost two years ago.
Listen to "The Bill Shanks Show" from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on "Middle Georgia’s ESPN" – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.