ATHENS -- With the success of the Georgia offense, the Georgia defense has flown under the radar so far in 2015.
But that group has been pretty good, too.
“I think our defense is playing well,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “Very few big plays. ... Our red-zone defense has been close to spectacular, denying people touchdowns. We’ve done a good job of getting turnovers. I think most of the balls that could’ve been picked have been picked. There have been a few balls that have been dropped, but we’ve been very opportunistic in that way.
“Tackling has been pretty good. Part of the reason that you tackle well is that guys are pursuing the ball and gang tackling. People have been respecting their gaps in the run game. I think they’ve done a nice job.”
A lot of the success that Georgia’s defense, which is ranked just outside of the top 25 nationally in total defense, has had can be tied back to the red-zone defense that Richt described as “close to spectacular.”
So far, teams have converted points on 57.14 percent of red-zone opportunities, ranking fifth nationally.
“Really I take it personally when any team scores on us,” senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “We don’t like to get scored on. We have a goal before the game. The limit, or the absolute maximum of points we want scored on us, and I mean, we don’t like getting scored on, (defensive coordinator Jeremy) Pruitt doesn’t like getting scored on. If anybody scores on us, we’re going to get angry.”
Jenkins didn’t say exactly what the number was but said the Bulldogs never like to give up more than a couple of touchdowns -- a number that only South Carolina has eclipsed against the Georgia defense this season.
But as successful as that unit has been, a lot of the success can be traced to what happens before the opponent gets to the red zone. Georgia’s opponents have combined for seven red-zone opportunities through three games.
The rush defense is ranked in the top 30. The pressure has been there with seven sacks, ranking Georgia No. 30 there. Even the pass defense, which ranks just No. 52, has been relatively successful given that it has played two teams in the top 31 of pass offenses in the country and that the defense has played a good portion of its games against teams with big deficits trying to pass their way back into the game.
And the Bulldogs have done all of this while having as many as five first- or second-year players in the starting lineups with players like Lorenzo Carter, Malkom Parrish, Dominick Sanders, Aaron Davis and Rico McGraw -- now Jonathan Abram with McGraw’s injury -- and that’s not counting Jake Ganus, the UAB transfer in his first season with Georgia.
“Most teams that have a lot of younger guys on defense, with the majority of the defense being underclassmen, they really don’t perform well this early in,” Jenkins said. “I feel like that’s a testament to our young guys and the way we’ve developed them and the way we need to keep sort of keep getting them mentally ready for the season.”
Where Georgia lacks experience on the defensive side of the ball, it makes up for it with a strong mentality.
Every day, Ganus said, Pruitt asks the players who they want to be. The answer is always “junkyard dogs.” It’s a term that the defensive players have thrown around a lot this year, but what that term actually means is what will come to define the defense.
“(It means) just being physical, relentless, mean, tough,” Ganus said. “Just anything when you think of an old-school junkyard dog. You’re there to protect, to protect the junkyard. That’s what they are. Taking it personal when you play at home, this is our field, this is our city.”