Since beginning SEC play two weeks ago, the Georgia defense hasn’t given up a touchdown. In fact, with the 41-0 shutout of Tennessee last Saturday, the Bulldogs defense has surrendered just three points to conference opponents.
So, what has been the difference for the defense this year? What has changed from Kirby Smart’s first year with this defense to now?
Well, Smart said that it makes a difference when you have maturity and experience on the field, as the 2017 defense does.
“We rolled a lot of guys in there last year but they are a year older, they are a year more mature,” Smart said. “All those freshmen from last year are paying off a lot now.”
Smart mentioned improvement from defensive players Tyler Clark and Julian Rochester but the growth goes beyond them. Seasoned defenders such as Lorenzo Carter, Roquan Smith and Davin Bellamy have grown into more mature players as well.
These players have been together as a unit for two years. It is not very often that you find a college team returning all but one athlete on its defense from one year to the next. In the Bulldogs’ case, that one loss was Maurice Smith, who came to Georgia in 2016 with just one year of eligibility remaining. With his departure, Georgia added sophomore transfer J.R. Reed, who continues to make a name for himself in the secondary, including adding an interception to his statistics after the Tennessee game.
And even though Reed said he could be considered one of the “younger guys,” he said his teammates still have high expectations for him.
“They expect everyone to be at their top play,” Reed said. “When we come out, there is no room for slacking. We have to really match each other’s energy.”
And this energy begins in practice every day. According to Smart, the mentality that the defense comes to practice with is the reason why you might see growth in these players at game time.
“We have grown up a little bit as a team,” Smart said. “They have seen the evidence in the practice habits that they have. We didn’t always get the results we wanted from our practice habits last year, but [this year] they have bought into the fact that if they are physical on Tuesday and Wednesday that they will be physical on Saturday.”
With the recent success of the Bulldogs defense, many comparisons are being made as to what the defense “looks” or “feels” like.
Reed said the defensive identity is quite simple.
“I think we are building our own identity for our own defense,” Reed said. “Fun, fast, physical. Just keeping it basic like that. We want to be fast to the ball. We want to be physical, but at the end of the day, we want to have fun.”
And while that is what Reed says the identity is, there is an underlying comparison to the Alabama defense with the way Georgia’s defense has played recently. But the comparison shouldn’t be made with Alabama. The comparison should be made to an old Georgia football term: the Junkyard Dawg defense.
“I would argue that Erk Russell would say they are playing ‘Junkyard Dawg’-like, and that means a lot more pride to me being a Georgia alum,” Smart said. “It’s the fact that our kids are playing hard and playing to a standard that was created a long time ago around here, really flying to the ball, hitting people.”