This was the year – or at least that’s what everyone thought about the 2012 Georgia Bulldogs. After all, one of the top five defenses in the country in 2011 returned nine starters, including the best linebacker in the country and speed rush extraordinaire Jarvis Jones. The stage was set, and with Todd Grantham bringing defensive physicality back to Athens, one had to figure the Bulldogs would have an epic showing on the defensive side of the ball.
However, Georgia’s 12 wins and an SEC East crown have more to do with the explosive offense than the highly anticipated defense.
Individually, player-for-player and on paper, there’s not many other standouts around the country you would take over the bulk of Georgia’s starting lineup. Jones had an outstanding season, as he led the SEC in sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (24.5) all the while missing two games due to injury. Alec Ogletree really came into his own at linebacker and led the team in tackles, and he moves around the field like a wide receiver ready to jack your jaw. You’ll find out how just good he is in the NFL. The combination of Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo was one of the top safety duos in the country, and they both returned for their senior seasons with unfinished business. Massive nose tackle and road grader John Jenkins spurned the NFL to return to Georgia for his senior season, too, and he looked to be the best run-controlling nose tackle in college football. And his backup Kwame Geathers could have started for 95 percent of other defensive lines in college football.
It was ‘the year’ for the Bulldogs, but collectively, this unit never really lived up to expectation and underachieved.
The season started slow for the defense, when three of those returning starters and one new starter were suspended for multiple games. Rambo and Ogletree both served four-game suspensions for failing the school’s substance abuse policy. Corner Sanders Commings and linebacker Chase Vasser served two-game suspensions for offseason arrests.
And it showed in their very first game. Buffalo moved the ball to the tune of nearly 200 yards on the ground. You could see the four were missed from the get-go.
When all four starters were finally on the field together, the offense had to produce 51 points to beat Tennessee, who put up 44 points and 478 total yards of offense. One could tell there were major problems on defense, but we all just assumed it would get cleaned up. After all, there was just too much talent for things not to improve, right? The very next week, South Carolina pummeled the Bulldogs to the tune of 35-7, and UGA was outgained 230 to 115 yards on the ground.
Georgia’s rush defense in 2011 was 11th in the country. But in 2012, this group finished 81st, surrendering over 182 yards on the ground per game to opponents. They never could quite stop the run.
Eight teams surpassed 190 yards on the ground against the Bulldogs in Buffalo, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Alabama and Nebraska, with three of those teams notching 300-plus yards on the ground. Four or five of those teams had no business getting anywhere close to that kind of yardage.
Strong showings against Vanderbilt, Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn were really the staple of the defense. All four combined for just 22 points, and one could see the flashes of greatness of what this group could accomplish as a unit.
Georgia’s run defense bit them the most against Alabama in the SEC Championship. The Tide ran for 350 yards on the ground behind their monster offensive line and physical rushing attack. It wasn’t the last-second non-spike or the clock mismanagement at the end of the game that produced the loss; it was the run defense, and their inability to stop Alabama from getting back into the game when the Bulldogs had two different leads of 21-10 early in the game and 28-25 in the fourth quarter.
Many of the 11 starters for Georgia and a few backups will be playing on Sundays for years in the future and putting up numbers in the NFL. But the story of the ‘12 Bulldogs’ defense won’t be its NFL legacy – it will be more about what could have been and the expectation they never lived up to.
12-2, an SEC East regular season championship and a Capital One Bowl trophy is a great season, but this team had so much more in them.
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