By Trent Rush, Lott IMPACT Trophy
The old adage is “defense wins championships” and that’s as evident as ever in Athens, Georgia, where the top-ranked Bulldogs feature the nation’s best defense.
Entering Saturday’s game against #11 Kentucky, Georgia’s defense and special teams have scored as many touchdowns as they have allowed. To date, Georgia is allowing 5.5 points per game and have given up just two touchdowns in six games. Additionally, their 33 total points against this season are the fewest through six games in school history since 1935.
The dominance of the Georgia defense is beyond comparison to any other current unit in college football and is gaining historical acclaim. ESPN analyst David Pollack was the inaugural Lott IMPACT Trophy recipient in 2004 when he was a defensive lineman at Georgia. When Pollack was asked about the 2021 Bulldog’s defense on ESPN Radio recently, he said, “This defense is starting to chase greatness now,” he continued, “Now it’s starting to chase 2011 Alabama.“ Pollack later declared, “This is an all-time great defense that we are watching.”
The first impression of this Georgia defense came in a 10-3 win in their season opener against Clemson, ranked third at the time. They’ve also shut out Vanderbilt and an Arkansas team that was previously ranked 8th. Georgia also held Auburn, then ranked 18th, to just ten points on the road.
Nakobe Dean is the captain and leader of the Georgia defense. Now a junior, Dean was named to the Lott IMPACT Trophy preseason watch list and is the Bulldogs’s second leading tackler. Two weeks ago, Mel Kiper named Dean one of his prospects on the rise and is Kiper’s third ranked inside linebacker. In spring camp, Kirby Smart identified Dean as a standout player citing not just his playing ability, but Smart also noted, “(Dean) has been a guy that really is a tremendous leader and has taken on a more vocal role.” That has continued through the season. Additionally, Dean’s community work continues to get recognition, including from the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, made up of 11 FBS players selected based on their commitment to community service.
When evaluating defensive players, statistics often do not tell the full story. Georgia’s Jordan Davis is a perfect example. At 6-6 and 340 pounds, Pollack described him as the kind of player, “that makes (an opponent) want to quit football.” Entering Saturday’s game against Kentucky, Davis has just 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks on the season, yet is a consensus projected first round pick.
Despite being projected first round picks for the upcoming NFL Draft, Dean and Davis may not even be the Bulldog’s best players on that defensive unit. Senior Adam Adamson is the team leader in sacks and is the Bulldog’s highest projected NFL player, according to Pro Football Focus, who called Adamson, “the most potent pass rusher in college football.”
While much of the leadership is credited on-field to Nakobe Dean, much recognition also goes to Dan Lenning. This is Lenning’s 4th year on Kirby Smart’s staff and is in his 3rd year as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. In 2019, Georgia ranked third in the nation in total defense, they were 12th last season and are first this season. It’s the kind of success that has even led to rumors of Lenning being considered for the USC head coaching job.
After this week, Georgia will have no more regular season games remaining against a ranked team. Should the Bulldogs improve to 7-0, with their current number one ranking, they will be distant favorites for a National Championship and could be in position to be considered the best defense in college football history, at least in modern history.
At 5.5 points allowed per game, it’s significantly fewer than any recent team has allowed. Sure, the 1939 Tennessee defense allowed 1.3 points per game, but 2011 Alabama was at 8.2, 2001 Miami at 9.8 and even 1971 Nebraska gave up 8.0 points per game. The closest comparison is 1979 Alabama, who surrendered just 5.6 points per game.
Regardless of how the rest of the season goes, giving up less than a touchdown per game at this point of the year puts 2021 Georgia into the elite class of the game’s very best defenses.