If you’re not a Georgia Bulldogs fan, forgive the ones who are this week. The giddiness is understandable. I mean, have you seen this defense?
In past years, the strategy was simple. Georgia just outscored opponents. The Bulldogs could get into a shootout and survive, usually because the offense was better than the defense. The offensive skill players made it easy to have high-scoring games.
But as they say, defense wins championships. Maybe that’s why Georgia hasn’t won one in a while. The Bulldogs haven’t won their conference since 2005, and they haven’t had a defense like this in a long time. Fans in Athens used to wait for the offense to be on the field. Now they crave the defense to be out there to create havoc and disrupt the opponent.
The unbelievable win over Mississippi State last week justified the excitement Georgia fans had going into the game. Sure, the Bulldogs had played two cash-for-clunker games and Notre Dame. That’s not Alabama and Ohio State. Aside from the stats, however, the way Georgia played should have all given us a hint the defense had the potential to dominate.
The speed of the Georgia defense is unreal. This team has the athleticism, but the defensive players also tackle well. We’re sort of used to having athletes who weren’t the best football players play for Georgia. Not this bunch. This defense is around the ball, and the players know what to do when they find the player who has it.
Of course, when a defense is great it usually has a star. Roquan Smith is Georgia’s. The Macon County product is like a magnet to the ball. Wherever it is, he is. Smith leads the way. We could tell he was getting better by the end of last season, but Smith has taken that next step and has become a star.
That’s what’s great about this Georgia team. We are seeing player development, which was a phrase rarely used describing the previous coaching staff. Head coach Kirby Smart is making his players better. His assistants are making players better.
Look at Lorenzo Carter. Most Georgia fans chuckled when previously talking about Carter. Great athlete who rarely produced — that was his reputation. Well, this season, Carter has developed into a tremendous complement for Smith at linebacker. Carter is a head hunter, someone who is going after the quarterback.
Look at Rodrigo Blankenship, the Georgia place-kicker. He was OK last season, just okay. But Blankenship has gotten better, so much better he held off David Marvin, who transferred from Wofford and was considered the best place-kicker in the Southern Conference last year. Blankenship is stronger, and his leg strength is noticeably improved.
And let’s give credit to Georgia’s offensive line. Yes, it was better last week against Mississippi State. Sam Pittman is known as a great offensive line coach, and we’ve waited to see progress. We saw it Saturday. If the linemen needed the first three games to get settled, it worked. Just think how scary this team may be if the offensive line becomes even better during the next month.
Georgia is not like Tennessee. The Bulldogs don’t have Alabama and LSU on the schedule. They’ve already beaten their best non-conference, non-Georgia Tech opponent in Notre Dame and the “other” team from the SEC West in Mississippi State. With the way this Georgia defense has looked in the first four weeks, is there a team left on the schedule that should scare this group offensively?
Usually, Georgia fans expect doom and gloom, that something stupid will happen to ruin something that might be special. But this year’s team has a different feeling to it, like it might avoid that catastrophe. This year’s team does not give up, and it’s because the defense never stops the pursuit of the football.
Forget about the days of watching Georgia simply outscore teams. This one wants to stop every offense it plays. Did it give up at the end of the game Saturday when Mississippi State was knocking on the door down by 28 points? No. It was determined to keep Dan Mullen’s team out of the end zone.
This is not a perfect team, but it’s improving every week. If the Georgia defense is this good now, how good will it be in another month? And if this defense is this special, what will Georgia be playing for in a couple of months?
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.