Georgia defense not searching for limelight in SEC title game, only victory
ATHENS — It took a team-first approach for the Georgia defense to make a name for itself, even if many of the players haven’t necessarily made a name for themselves.
The Bulldogs “No-Name” defensive squad had just one preseason pick, J.R. Reed, and the senior safety is the only one of them up for a postseason award.
This, even though Georgia leads the SEC in every major statistical category, allowing just one rushing touchdown all season and no plays over 30 yards the second half of the regular season.
The Bulldogs defense has such relative anonymity that LSU star running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire struggled to think of the name of any Georgia players.
Asked who stood out in last season’s meeting, a 36-16 Tigers’ win, Edwards-Helaire named a former Georgia linebacker who wasn’t even on the team anymore.
“I think it’s Roquan, the linebacker,” Edwards-Helaire said, referencing 2017 SEC Defensive Player of the Year Roquan Smith. “I’m not sure his name. I don’t want to say it wrong. He was a great athlete. I needed to see where he was pretty much every play I was in … as far as guys on defense, he’s the guy that stood out.”
Fact is, no one really stands out, and senior defensive tackle Michael Barnett explained that’s part of the formula for success.
“I don’t like anyone knowing my name, I just want to get the job done,” Barnett said. “It’s like all that limelight doesn’t matter to us. As long as we’re winning games and executing and reaching our goals and our standard, that’s all that matters.”
Georgia hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in regulation in any game, ranking second in the country in scoring defense.
Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari, who has an eye-popping 34 QB pressures, was not aware UGA also leads the SEC in run defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense, third-down conversion defense and fewest first downs allowed.
“We do have a very good defense, (but) we don’t look at the stats, no one really talks about it,” Ojulari said. “We have to keep playing our game and play up to the standard, because we haven’t played our best defensive game yet.”
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) will need to do just that to upset No. 2-ranked LSU (12-0) at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Tigers are coming off a 50-7 win over Texas A&M with Heisman Trophy favorite Joe Burrow setting an SEC single-season passing mark.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart calls it the biggest challenge of his career, and Ojulari admits Georgia hasn’t seen anything like the LSU offense.
“I don’t think anyone is like LSU, they are different, very different,” Ojulari said. “Just all the weapons they have on offense, and their quarterback.”
“They have two 1,000-yard receivers, a good running back, a great Heisman candidate at quarterback, so c’mon, it’s a loaded team right there.”
Even Smart admits these Bulldogs are seemingly lacking in star power.
“Look, we don’t have natural star power on our defense,” Smart said. “This group plays really hard and well together. They’re well coached and they’re fundamentally sound.”
But apparently not sound enough for any of the players on the SEC’s No. 1 defense to make the Pro Football Focus “SEC Team of the Year” released on Monday night.
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 2, 2019
Barnett said the Bulldogs refuse to lose their focus.
“We stay low and focus on what we need to do,” Barnett said. “If we execute, other things will happen. If the defensive does a good job, it reflects on Georgia as a team. It’s about the team. If that’s about holding up guys on the offensive line or taking on blocks so everyone else can make tackles, so be it.
“We’re winning and that’s all that matters.”
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