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UGA coach Kirby Smart hopes to lead the Bulldogs to a national championship in his fourth season as coach.

UGA’s rush defense must improve for the Bulldogs to win the national championship

Brandon Adams

Georgia football fans crave a national championship, and this season might be the year their wait comes to an end. However, the first step toward making that happen is for UGA coach Kirby Smart to lead the Bulldogs to a third-straight SEC East title. With that in mind, DawgNation is proud to present — in partnership with Georgia’s Own Credit Union — the “Own the East” series. A season preview content series focused on what it will take for UGA to dominate the division once again, and possibly return to the College Football Playoff.

The most-talked about defensive issue for Georgia this offseason was the attempt to increase UGA’s so-called “Havoc Rate” — which is the percentage of plays that result in either sacks, tackles for loss, fumbles recovered, passes broken up or interceptions.

UGA didn’t produce enough of those kinds of disruptive defensive plays last season compared to the typical Playoff-caliber defense. Therefore, working to improve that metric is probably a worthy goal.

However, so much attention has been paid to the Bulldogs’ lack of havoc that another issue has potentially been under-covered by the media and possibly unnoticed by fans.

The Bulldogs’ defense simply wasn’t very good at stopping the run in 2018.

The old-school stats make that clear; UGA was 31st in the country in rushing yards allowed in 2018. And the new-school analytics tell a similar story: the Bulldogs were 53rd in S&P+ rush defense — which evaluates teams on a combination of successful and explosive plays allowed.

By comparison, Clemson — last year’s national champion — was No. 2 in S&P+ rush defense. Alabama was No. 3.

Therefore, it’s probably an area UGA needs improvement if it wants to compete for a national championship this season.

On this edition of Own the East — DawgNation’s season preview video series (linked above) — former UGA All-American Jon Stinchcomb says the effort to improve the rush defense might also have a positive impact on the Havoc Rate as well.

“If you want to create havoc, you have to get teams in third-and-long situations,” Stinchcomb said. “How do you do that? You have to stop the run.”

According to Stinchcomb, the best way for UGA to improve its rush defense might be to lean more heavily (no pun intended) on one of the players who emerged last season.

“It starts up front,” Stinchcomb said. “Jordan Davis, last year, became that anchor point in the middle, but he can’t do it alone.”

Davis undoubtedly impressed as a true freshman last season, and was clearly one of the bright spots of the Bulldogs defensive line. Many fans are curious what he might have planned as an encore for his sophomore season.

However, it’ll take more than Davis’ development to shut down the high-powered rushing attacks of some of the Bulldogs’ SEC rivals.

“Where you need to see advancement is from the rest of the defensive line,” Stinchcomb said. “I think some of the vets have an opportunity to step up [such as] Tyler Clark. You can also add in some new pieces like Travon Walker, [who might] come in and help out with that rush defense.”

Ultimately, whether the quest to improve UGA’s rush defense is led this season by a freshman such as Walker, veterans like Clark or more development from Davis remains to be seen. However, no one can deny it’ll be a crucial factor in the Bulldogs’ attempt to win the SEC East once again, and possibly the national championship as well.


Previous Own the East season preview stories:

Heisman candidates Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift could be UGA championship catalyst

Don’t count out Brian Herrien in battle to become UGA’s next 1,000-yard rusher

Richard LeCounte is arguably one of college football’s most underrated players

Fans have high hopes for UGA’s latest collection of elite recruits

Combination of returning talent, touted newcomers should improve UGA’s ‘Havoc Rate’

Jake Fromm working to gain chemistry with new WRs

UGA’s lauded offensive line still has areas in which it can improve

Zamir White, already part of ‘RBU’ family, could soon add to its legacy

QB depth could be crucial component of UGA’s championship chase

UGA’s No. 1-rated 2018 class still offers potential breakout stars

Former UGA great doesn’t see realistic threat to Bulldogs in SEC East

New UGA coordinators could be ‘source of excitement’ for Bulldogs

No shortage of options for UGA in quest to replace Deandre Baker

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