JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Georgia is making its case as one of the best defenses in the nation, while also being one of the most underappreciated.
All the talk entering into last Saturday’s game was about what the Florida offense could do and what the Bulldogs’ offense couldn’t do.
The national media seemed to overlook Georgia leading the SEC in most every major category and Kirby Smart’s background as a defensive guru.
The narrative may or may not shift this week against Missouri.
But last Saturday, the No. 6-ranked Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1 SEC) beat Florida 24-17 with a balanced team effort that started with a big defensive stop on the opening series of the game.
The Gators had a second-and-1 at the Georgia 40 when Malik Herring stopped Lamical Perine for no gain. After a timeout and procedure penalty, UGA cornerback Eric Stokes and linebacker Nakobe Dean closed on Perine after he caught a screen, dropping him a yard short of first down.
The first big decision of the day for Florida was to go for it, and Georgia safety Richard LeCounte was there to make the big play, defending a Kyle Trask pass intended for 6-foot-6 tight end Kyle Pitts.
So it was that Herring and LeC0unte went from flipping the momentum early to doing back flips after the game.
— Malik Herring (@HerringMalik) November 3, 2019
Gators’ coach Dan Mullen is regarded by some as an offensive wizard, but Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning is fast making a name for himself working alongside Smart.
Florida had just three points and was 0-for-5 on third downs entering the fourth quarter before the Bulldogs loosened up on defense to protect what had become a two-touchdown lead.
The Gators finished with a season-low 278 total yards and 21 yards rushing.
“We wanted to control the line of scrimmage, and we emphasized that all week with Kirby and Coach (Tray) Scott,” said Georgia nose tackle Jordan Davis, who in addition to dominating the inside lanes recorded his first sack of the season.
“It was important to make them one-dimensional. We knew if we stopped the run, they’d have to beat us off the pass.”
Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari saw to it that Trask knew he’d be in for a long day on the Gators’ second series, beating his man for a sack on the Florida QB.
“It felt good, working a move and getting a sack and creating havoc early in the game to impact their offense,” said Ojulari, who recorded five tackles. “We pressured them and created havoc, so they probably had to make a couple of adjustments.”
Florida coach Dan Mullen admitted as much, and it all went back to the first drive.
“We wanted to take the lead and we fell behind early, so we were throwing a bit more,” Mullen said, asked about his team’s offensive struggles. “The goal was to try to take the lead.”
Smart said Georgia was looking to “suffocate” the Gators run game, and that there was a gamble in doing so.
“They’re going to make plays on you,” Smart said. “They’ve got as good a group of receivers as anybody. I’m telling you, there’s four guys that are going to be playing in the NFL, and I’m including the tight end. But they’ve got good wideouts and that was my concern coming into the game.
“We knew that we may have to give something up to get something back.”
Georgia didn’t give that much back — Florida’s longest offensive play went for 29 yards and they finished 2-of-9 on third down.
The Bulldogs remain the only team in the nation not to allow a rushing touchdown.
Georgia defense national ranks
No. 2 in Red Zone defense (leads SEC)
No. 4 in Rushing defense (leads SEC)
No. 4 in scoring defense (leads SEC)
No. 8 in total defense (leads SEC)
No. 11 in third-down defense (leads SEC)
No. 14 in pass efficiency defense (No. 2 in SEC)
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