Photo Credit: Philip Williams / UGA Athletics
Linebacker Travon Walker sacks Auburn quarterback Bo Nix.
Unlike last week, now is no time for complaining. It’s hard to bellyache when you beat Auburn to become SEC East champs.
Georgia went down to the Plains, beat Auburn for the third time in a row 21–14 and claimed a third SEC East title in as many years. As Kirby Smart so eloquently put it after the game, “How ‘bout them fuckin’ Dawgs?”
There are still games with Texas A&M and Georgia Tech left on the regular-season slate—both of which are must-wins for Georgia's College Football Playoff hopes—but all eyes will naturally turn toward the SEC Championship showdown with No. 1 LSU. Georgia will be tasked with stopping one of the deadliest offenses in the country, led by Heisman frontrunner Joe Burrow, against LSU. So it's a good thing the Dawgs have one of the deadliest defenses in the country to match.
I considered writing about the defense last week after it nabbed its third shutout of the year in a 27-0 victory over Missouri, the first time since 1981 that a Georgia team has held three opponents to a goose egg. But the Larry Munson inside me was too strong, so instead, I had to gripe about the offense. I continue to have gripes with the offense, but after winning a third straight division title and beating Auburn, those aren't nits I care to pick. Thankfully, the defense continued to shine against Auburn, giving me another shot to write about this monstrous unit.
To put things simply, Georgia has the best defense in the SEC. Period. The Dawgs are fourth nationally in rushing defense, fifth in total defense, 10th in third-down defense, sixth in first-down defense, and first in red-zone defense. They also lead the SEC in all those categories. Most impressively, teams don't score much against Georgia. Three opponents, including two SEC opponents, have been held scoreless, and no opponent has scored more than 20 points on the Dawgs. Georgia is allowing roughly 10 points per game, second in the country behind Ohio State, which, for all its strengths, hasn't played a schedule as tough as Georgia's.
The Dawgs continued their defensive dominance in the first half against Auburn, enough so that I thought another shutout may be in the cards. But with a 21-0 lead, Georgia's ill-conceived switch from press man-to-man coverage to a soft zone allowed Auburn to score two touchdowns and get back in the game. Smart and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning returned to man coverage for the final two drives and stopped Auburn on downs both times.
Auburn’s freshman quarterback, Bo Nix, ultimately ended up putting up some solid numbers—245 yards and a touchdown—but he needed 50 passes and 30 completions to get there. The run defense limited the Tigers to just 84 rushing yards, although Georgia did finally allow its first rushing touchdown of the season.
The most impressive thing about Georgia's defense is its team mentality. Unlike the stellar 2017 defense, there is no superstar like Roquan Smith. Oh, there are plenty of extremely talented dudes anywhere you look—J.R. Reed, Tyler Clark, Nakobe Dean, Tyson Campbell, Nolan Smith and Travon Walker, to name a few—just no stars. It's a team effort. The defense was lightning quick subbing in and out against Auburn's hurry-up offense, keeping the players on the field fresh enough to play against Auburn's pace. And when one Georgia defender hits an opponent, a swarm of Dawgs follows. This defense is well-coached, deep and capable of standing toe-to-toe with any offense in America.
It has to be said, though, that Georgia hasn't faced the best quarterbacks this season. Nix is talented, but he's still lacking a lot of experience. And Georgia has faced second-stringers this season against the likes of Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida and Missouri. The success Georgia has found against these QBs is all well and good, but it will be a different story against LSU and Burrow in Atlanta.
If there's one thing giving Dawg fans hope that an SEC Championship and College Football Playoff bid are still on the table, it's this defense. Because if there's any defense in the SEC that has a prayer of stopping the LSU offense, it's Georgia's.
UGA Photographer Injured
A recent UGA graduate suffered what at first appeared to be a serious injury after being hit while taking photos on the sideline when an Auburn tackler shoved running back Brian Herrien out of bounds. Fortunately, it was not as serious as it looked, and Chamberlain Smith is out of the hospital.
Smith said on social media: "I haven’t had a chance to respond to everyone, but I just wanted to say thank you all so much for the overwhelming outpouring of support in the form of kind comments, messages & prayers!! .. last night was very scary, but I’m so glad to be walking away with nothing more than a concussion & some bruises. I will be home resting & recovering for the next several days, but I’m looking forward to being back on the sidelines soon! ❤️#godawgs"