As SEC defenses crumble, Georgia's looks as nasty as ever
Sometimes, you don’t need to be perfect to win a game. But, as we saw in Georgia’s win over Tennessee on Saturday, your talent finds a way to get the job done in the end.
And for a little bit, the Dawgs were clinging to a lead against a Vols team looking to show that it was ready to take the next step under Jeremy Pruitt. Georgia led 23-21 in the 3rd quarter, thanks to a pair of Jack Podlesny field goals, but its first 3 drives of the 2nd half were far from impressive.
Worse, the defense forced 2 turnovers to set up those possessions. Azeez Ojular recovered a fumble and Eric Stokes intercepted a pass. Both drives resulted in field goals. The 3rd drive was a 3-and-out.
Third drive: 3-and-out at their own 15. Punt.
The Dawgs’ defense was doing what it normally does, keeping the opponent in check until the offense found its footing.
It took awhile, but it eventually did. The Dawgs outscored Tennessee 27-0 in the 2nd half. Kearis Jackson caught his 1st career TD pass to give Georgia a 30-21 lead.
And after another the defense forced another 3-and-out, an 8-play drive ended with big defensive lineman Jalen Carter — all 305 pounds of him — in the end zone for the kill shot with 10½ minutes left in the game.
Was it a perfect wire-to-wire performance by the Dawgs? Not by a long shot. Trey Hill’s high snap on the 2nd play of the game, a ball that ended up being covered by the Vols for a touchdown after Stetson Bennett IV failed to snag it, may have caused a few fans to grit their teeth and prepare for the worst. Their offense spun its wheels for most of the 3rd quarter, leaving points on the field and failing to put their opponent away despite a pair of takeaways.
Fortunately, the Dawgs’ talent won out in the end, and they’re now 3-0 with their winning streak over the Vols at 4 games. Credit Jeremy Pruitt and Co.: They looked the part at times as Jarrett Guarantano made some plays in support of his defense in the 1st half, including a pair of touchdown throws to receiver Josh Palmer. Star sophomore linebacker Henry To’o To’o, with a game-high 11 tackles and 2 stops for lost yardage, will be playing on Sundays as early as 2022.
But Saturday showed that Georgia still has the edge in the East. And its defense deserves accolades once again.
Tennessee’s vaunted offensive line that was considered one of the best in the country? It was ineffective against the Dawgs’ defensive front, which allowed negative-1 yard rushing and has now given up just 115 in 3 games. Guarantano was sacked 5 times, including Ojulari’s that forced a turnover and a late strip-sack by Monty Rice, who scored on a 20-yard fumble return. The Vols didn’t cross midfield in the 2nd half until their final 2 drives, but by then the game was already decided.
It’s basically a foregone conclusion that Dan Lanning’s group will answer the bell every time it’s called upon. Best in the SEC, again? Can that statement be considered too much of a stretch through these first 3 games? I don’t think so. The SEC West may as well be playing in the Big 12 with the amount of yardage and points its teams have been giving up. And can any of the SEC East teams say that they’re playing on the same level defensively as the Dawgs right now?
Through its first 3 games, Georgia’s defense has allowed 3 touchdowns. That’s it. Along with the 115 total yards it’s allowed on the ground, it has conceded an average of 240 passing yards. It has registered 7 takeaways; its 3 takeaways against Tennessee were the most against an SEC opponent since setting the same mark against Missouri and Florida in 2018.
Now, the Dawgs have a chance to send a resounding message as all eyes turn to Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa against Alabama, a Crimson Tide team that looked far from reliable defensively against Ole Miss in Oxford. Bama’s offense can still make it a long day for any defense in the country, even great ones like Georgia’s, with plenty of offensive weapons including Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Najee Harris.
But if there’s anyone that can stop them, it just might be Georgia.