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Tyrique Stevenson figures to take on a bigger role in Georgia's defense next year

Peach Bowl against Cincinnati a chance to show what Georgia defense might look like in 2021

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Georgia football defense figures to look different after 2020 season

Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning knows he has to go back to the drawing board after the final game against Cincinnati.

That would be the case regardless of how Georgia’s defense played this season, as he knows defense just has to play catch-up to modern offenses.

“I think the offensive game, it’s changed a lot,” Lanning said. “I think every season we go through and we say, What can we do better? What can we do different? This off-season, I don’t see that being any different. We’re going to reassess, evaluate.

“You have to adapt and change as the offenses adapt and change.”

This season though showed the Georgia defense was a clear step behind the best offenses in the country. Alabama and Florida rank No. 2 and No. 5 in the country in yards per play. Georgia ranked No. 14 in yards per play against, which was good for first in the SEC.

In the games against Florida and Alabama, Georgia gave up 44 and 41 points. The Gators and Crimson Tide rolled up 571 and 564 yards of offense. Those proved to be Georgia’s only two losses on the season.

Lanning did point to COVID as a partial reason for why the Georgia defense seemed to fall an even further step behind the elite offenses in the sport. He still knows Georgia must catch up.

“I know ultimately offenses are ahead of the curve right now,” Lanning said. “You could say it’s related to COVID, but I know within our walls we have a standard of defense here we take a lot of pride in. That doesn’t change based on situation. We take a lot of pride in our mental agility and our ability to adapt.”

Georgia’s defense will look very different next season in part due to the player personnel they stand to lose. The Bulldogs have already some of the attrition in the Peach Bowl against Cincinnati.

Georgia will be without Eric Stokes as he officially declared for the draft, along with Monty Rice who will miss the game to let a foot injury heal. There’s also questions about whether Georgia will have DJ Daniel and Richard LeCounte for the game, with the latter still recovering from injuries he suffered in October.

The Bulldogs are also expecting to see Malik Herring and Mark Webb to move onto the NFL, as they’ve both accepted bids to the Senior Bowl.

Georgia could get some very good news on the defensive line if Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt and Julian Rochester all decide to return. The latter two are seniors, while Davis is a draft-eligible junior.

“I love balling with my brothers. That’s the big reason,” Davis said on why he’s playing in the Peach Bowl. “That’s probably the only reason, is I love my team too much, I love my Dawgs too much. I don’t want to opt-out.”

Even if all three of those players do not come back, Davis explained why the future of the Georgia defensive line is in good hands with Travon Walker, Jalen Carter and Zion Logue all playing well during the season.

“If they getting coached by Tray Scott, they in good hands,” Davis said. “He’s not only going to develop you as a player, he’s going to develop you as a man. If Coach Scott is still here, they getting coached by Tray Scott, they’re going to be in good hands, definitely.”

The linebacker positions don’t figure to be a significant worry either. At the outside linebacker spot, the depth won’t be as good as it was this season with Jermaine Johnson gone and Azeez Ojulari seemingly on his way to being an NFL draft pick.

Nolan Smith and Adam Anderson have played a lot this season, with highly-touted freshman MJ Sherman waiting in the wings.

At inside linebacker, the injury to Rice has led to plenty of reps for Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall over the year. Dean remarked that being without Rice won’t be a significant difference.

The real problem comes in the secondary. Webb, LeCounte, Stokes and Daniel will all definitely be gone. Tyson Campbell is weighing a possible move to the NFL and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him move on.

Georgia will bring back safeties Lewis Cine and Christopher Smith. There’s also Tyrique Stevenson, who seems primed for a bigger role.

Cornerback will be a big concern though. Georgia will get a chance to see what Ameer Speed, Jalen Kimber or Daran Branch can do in the Peach Bowl as one of them seems poised to fill-in for Stokes.

“I just tell them there’s things, you need to be ready for your opportunity, things like that,” Smith said. “I feel like if we have to use those guys, they’ll be more than prepared. They’re very good, very talented kids. They’re getting better every day, just like the rest of the team.”

Related: Kelee Ringo won’t play in Peach Bowl but Dan Lanning is still ‘really excited’ about his future

Georgia’s offense might finally resemble that of Clemson and Alabama’s in 2021. But the defense, the calling card under Kirby Smart in his time at Georgia figures to look different.

It’s due to both trying to slow the best offenses in the sport and the changing personnel.

“I’m very pleased with our players, how hard, how conscientious they’ve been about learning what we want to do defensively,” Smart said. “Look, you’re not going to play in football in general, but in college football any more, and not give up plays.”

Georgia will get its first chance to see what that defense looks like in 2021 in the game against Cincinnati. The Bulldogs and Bearcats are set to kickoff at 12 p.m. ET and will play on ESPN.

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