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Is This Year’s Dawgs Defense the GOAT?

Nakobe Dean (17) was one of many heroes for the Georgia defense Saturday. Credit: Mackenzie Miles

Man, these dudes are different.

The Georgia Bulldogs have done a lot of impressive stuff on their way to an 8-0 record this season, especially on defense. But no moment or series of moments has stood out like a 135-second stretch toward the end of the first half of the Dawgs’ 34-7 win over Florida in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

Following a Stetson Bennett IV interception in the waning minutes of the first half, the Gators only needed a first down to escape into the locker room with just a three-point deficit. Anthony Richardson, Florida’s would-be savior at quarterback, almost had it as he rumbled toward the Georgia 10-yard line. But as he continued to fight for yardage, linebacker Nolan Smith fought for the ball and stripped Richardson. James Cook ran in for an 11-yard touchdown on the next play to put Georgia up 10-0.

We all would’ve been happy to go into the half at that point, based on what we’d seen so far. But the Dawgs weren’t finished. Florida coach Dan Mullen insisted on trying to get something from the half, and Richardson threw an interception to Smith two plays later. Once again, Georgia came out on offense and scored again in one fell swoop, this time on a 36-yard dime from Bennett to Kearis Jackson to make the score 17-0.

Again, all Dawg fans would’ve been satisfied with that scoreline. But Mullen couldn’t help himself. So Richardson passed into the flat, and linebacker Nakobe Dean sprang on it, returning it 50 yards to the house, giving Georgia a 24-0 lead with seven seconds until halftime.

In 135 seconds Georgia went from 3-0 and preparing for the battle of the season in the second half to 24-0 and a guaranteed win. No one has scored more than 13 points on Georgia this season, and those Gators damn sure weren’t gonna score more than 24 in a single half.

With the victory over Florida combined with a Mississippi State win over Kentucky, Georgia has clinched an SEC East title—its fourth in five years—and a ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. There are four games remaining on Georgia’s regular-season slate: Missouri, Tennessee, Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech. Win these next four and you’re in the College Football Playoff regardless of what happens in Atlanta.

Based on what we’ve seen so far from the Georgia defense, those four teams’ chances skew heavily toward the “none” side on the “slim-to-none” scale. I’ll say it again: These. Dudes. Are. Different.

What was so jarring about the defensive run at the end of the first half against Florida was its suddenness. For three possessions, Florida tried to end the half on their terms, and for three possessions, we wouldn’t let it happen. From a purely statistical standpoint, it would appear the Florida defense outperformed Georgia. They outgained us (355 yards to 354), had more first downs (20 to 18), won the time of possession battle (32:20 to 27:40), and tied us in turnovers (three apiece). But this Dawg defense has an intangible ability to make plays and stops when it matters the most. 

The defense is so good as a unit, it’s difficult to highlight individual performances. There is nothing eye-popping about the individual stats. There is no one putting up Roquan Smith numbers. There is no one intercepting passes like Jake Scott. There is no one racking up sacks like David Pollack. It’s a lot of dudes doing their job on every single play.

After eight games, 14 Georgia defenders have at least half a sack. Eight players have interceptions. Nose tackles never accumulate stats, but Jordan Davis is a dark-horse Heisman candidate off the eye test alone. We’re the defensive version of the 2019 LSU offense. You only need to watch for a short time to see that they are playing on a different level to any other team in the country.

I’ve heard some folks suggest this may be the best Georgia defense of all time. Buddy, we blew past that weeks ago. There is no doubt this is the best defense to ever come out of Athens. These dudes are working on being the best defense in college football history.