041622 Athens: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during the G - Day game at Sanford Stadium Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Kirby Smart’s secret sauce: Challenged Georgia defense to match historic teams

Kirby Smart took things to the highest level when challenging the 2021 Georgia defense to be “elite” last season.

“We compared this defense to the greatest defenses in all of college football history, we didn’t compare them to the other five teams in college football,” Smart revealed during his appearance on Birmingham’s WJOX radio on Wednesday.

“We compared them to the teams from 10 or 15 years past,” Smart said. “They bought into that, they really liked the competition and being the best.”

Smart built one of the most dominant defenses in college football history last season, developing a unit that led the country and produced a record number of first-round NFL draft picks.

The Bulldogs set a modern-era record for the fewest points per game allowed in a 12-game regular season (6.9).

One of the great defenses Smart used to motivate his team was the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, led by NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.

Coach by Brian Billick, those Ravens set the 16-game NFL record for the fewest points allowed per game (10.3).

That Baltimore team, arguably the greatest in franchise history, recorded four regular-season shutouts — one every four games.

Similarly, Smart’s 2021 Bulldogs shut out three teams in 12 regular-season games — one every four games.

“The Ravens defense was so good,” Smart said. “During the playoff run, (almost) outscored their offense and won a world championship.

“People don’t understand how crazy that is,” Smart said, referring to the four touchdowns the Baltimore defense and special teams scored during the four-game playoff and Super Bowl stretch.

“I think our kids really gravitated to that. They wanted to be great, they wanted to be elite, and it was fun for them.”

It also proved rewarding, with the 2021 Georgia “No-Name” defense setting an NFL Draft record with five first-round picks amid another NFL modern-era record of 15 players drafted, in all.

RELATED: Jordan Davis leads ‘No-Name’ defense, explains team concept

The irony of the UGA defensive nickname was rooted in the lack of individual attention the players received leading up to the championship season.

Indeed, a USA Today college football panel didn’t vote any Georgia position players preseason first-team All-SEC.

RELATED: Stop the presses, USA Today shuts out Georgia on All-SEC team

Much like the greatest defenses of all-time, Smart said his Bulldogs’ were bought into the team-first concept.

“What we had last year, kids were playing for UGA, not independently, not people trying to find NIL deals, they really cared about the University of Georgia,” Smart said. “And when you find that, and you sell that as a staff, it makes it that much better.”

Here’s a look at where Georgia’s 2021 defense finished in the national ranks:

Run Defense

1. Wisconsin, 64.8 mpg

2. Georgia, 78.9 mpg

Scoring Defense

1. Georgia, 10.20

2. Clemson, 14.85

Pass Efficiency Defense

1. Cincinnati, 103.36

2. Georgia 103.65

Total Defense

1. Wisconsin, 239.1

2. Georgia, 268.9

Note: Georgia and Wisconsin shared one common opponent in Michigan.

The Badgers lost 38-17 to the Wolverines at home and were outgunned 365-210.

Georgia beat Michigan 34-11 at a neutral site, out-gaining the Wolverines 521-328.

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