NEW ORLEANS — Kirby Smart has said several times over it’s amazing how much can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit, and Dan Lanning pointed to that being the secret for this Georgia defense.
“We build our mantra on kind of being the no‑name defense,” Lanning said on Monday at the Sugar Bowl Media Day. “It’s not really about the players, it’s about us.
“Our guys have gone out constantly and performed, tried to play to a standard regardless of who the opponent is. It’s been exciting to see our guys embrace that this year. “
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs will be relying on their SEC-best defensive unit to keep No. 7 Baylor in check at 8:45 p.m. on Wednesday in the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Georgia defense leads the SEC in total defense, run defense, scoring defense and ranks among the top 15 in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
Even now, with All-American and Thorpe Award and Nagurski Award finalist J.R. Reed missing, Lanning has no doubt his defense will perform well.
“The reality is somebody is going to step up,” said Lanning, who Smart promoted from within after Mel Tucker accepted the Colorado head coaching job after the 2018 SEC Championship game.
“Fortunate for us we’ve played a ton of guys this entire season,” Lanning said. “I think if you go back and look, we probably had over 40 guys that really had significant roles for us in this defense. You’re going to see more.
“You’re not necessarily going to see new, but you will see more. You will see more Lewis Cine. You will see more Chris Smith, more Otis Reese.”
Lanning has been mum on who will start in Reed’s place at safety opposite Richard LeCounte. But it figures to be Reese, Cine or Smith if the Bulldogs go with a conventional 3-4-4 or 3-3-5 look against the Bears.
Lanning explained that Georgia’s defensive depth and flexibility is by design, and it’s why so many prospects are interested in playing for the program.
“I think what we really set out to do at the beginning of the year is identify the guys that were ready to play and contribute to our team, and what we didn’t want to do is have guys that we felt like could play on the sideline for us,” Lanning said. “So if you had the ability to have a role for us in this defense and you were ready, what we’ve said from the get‑go is if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
“It really doesn’t matter how old you are. We’ve had a lot of guys we felt like were good enough and we could find roles for them.”
Indeed, the Georgia defensive players say they aren’t looking for personal accolades, only tackles.
“It’s like all that limelight doesn’t matter to us,” UGA senior defensive tackle Michael Barnett said. “As long as we’re winning games and executing and reaching our goals and our standard, that’s all that matters.”