Ge­or­gia re­mind­ing SEC de­fense mat­ters

De­spite some of­fen­sive trou­bles, the Bull­dogs are show­ing they know how to play de­fense in tough games.

Rome News-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By Teresa M. Walker As­so­ci­ated Press Sports Writer

Ge­or­gia coach Kirby Smart isn’t happy that his Bull­dogs fi­nally al­lowed not one, but two touch­downs against a South­east­ern Con­fer­ence op­po­nent. In their third league game. Smart calls that a wake-up call for his fourth-ranked Bull­dogs.

“Our de­fense needed that,” Smart said. “They have been told by the me­dia and ev­ery­one else that they’re the great­est thing ever . ... We didn’t play to the stan­dard that we’re sup­posed to. We can get bet­ter de­fen­sively and coach off of this per­for­mance to get their at­ten­tion.”

The Bull­dogs still are the na­tion’s sec­ond-stingi­est de­fense in Smart’s sec­ond sea­son , giv­ing up an av­er­age of just 10 points a game this sea­son. They haven’t al­lowed more than 19 in a win at Notre Dame that looks much more im­pres­sive as the Fight­ing Ir­ish’s only loss.

Ge­or­gia, top-ranked Alabama and No. 10 Auburn are sep­a­rat­ing them­selves in the SEC, even though the Crim­son Tide’s of­fense looks me­thod­i­cal at times, the Bull­dogs are play­ing a fresh­man quar­ter­back and Tigers can have trou­ble mov­ing the ball.

The one thing the trio does well week in and week out, is play de­fense. Their de­fen­sive squads are among the top six scor­ing units in the coun­try, and that has them all poised to make a run at the Col­lege Foot­ball Playoffs.

“De­fense wins cham­pi­onships and of­fense puts peo­ple in the seats,” said Van­der­bilt coach Derek Ma­son, who runs his own de­fense.

That’s noth­ing new, in fact, it’s been re­peated many times.

But these three teams have taken it to heart.

Alabama has al­lowed just 22 points in three SEC games. Ge­or­gia had a streak of six score­less quar­ters be­fore giv­ing up its first touch­downs in league play to Van­der­bilt , sec­ond set up by a turnover re­turned to the Ge­or­gia 1.

Ge­or­gia ranks third na­tion­ally al­low­ing 242.7 yards per game fol­lowed by Alabama (258.8) in fifth with Auburn (287.5) 13th. Mis­sis­sippi State and LSU are the only other SEC teams giv­ing up less than 350 yards per game.

Auburn used Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo of­fenses as first co­or­di­na­tor and then head coach to over­come the Tigers’ de­fen­sive short­com­ings in win­ning the 2010 national cham­pi­onship with Cam New­ton and to reach the 2013 ti­tle game. Auburn’s best scor­ing de­fense was ranked 48th in 2013 in those two sea­sons.

Now Auburn is hold­ing op­po­nents to 13 points per game — sixth-best in the na­tion.

“Over the his­tory of our league, if you re­ally look, the teams that have a chance to ei­ther win cham­pi­onships or have a chance to win cham­pi­onships, they’re all play­ing re­ally good de­fense,” Malzahn said. “That’s re­ally, I think, what sep­a­rates our league from a lot of leagues is the elite de­fenses. When you play those elite de­fenses, it’s a chal­lenge.”

Arkansas is an ex­am­ple of how costly a shoddy unit can be.

A de­fense ranked 123rd out of 128 FBS teams giv­ing up an av­er­age of 6.75 yards per play led to ugly losses to Mis­souri and Vir­ginia Tech last sea­son. Switch­ing from a 4-3 de­fense to a 3-4 has re­sulted in only mar­ginal im­prove­ment. Arkansas (2-3, 0-2 SEC) is giv­ing up 31.4 points per game, bet­ter than only Mis­sis­sippi (37.4) and Mis­souri (40).

Nick Sa­ban coached Alabama to the SEC cham­pi­onship each of the last three years and four of five lean­ing on de­fense with Smart as de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor un­til leav­ing last year to coach his alma mater. This sea­son, the Tide has re­mained one of the na­tion’s top de­fenses de­spite an ar­ray of in­juries.

Alabama lost lineback­ers Chris­tian Miller and Ter­rell Lewis for the sea­son in the opener against Florida State with lineback­ers Rashaan Evans, An­fer­nee Jen­nings and Dy­lan Moses miss­ing games with in­juries. So have start­ing de­fen­sive end Da’Shawn Hand and backup corner­back Trevon Diggs.

Five-star de­fen­sive end re­cruit LaBryan Ray ap­peared headed for a red­shirt sea­son but had a sack against Texas A&M with Hand out with a sprained MCL.

File, Cur­tis Comp­ton /At­lanta Journal-Con­sti­tu­tion via AP

Ge­or­gia de­fend­ers gang tackle Ten­nessee run­ning back John Kelly dur­ing a re­cent game. The de­fen­sive squads at Alabama, Ge­or­gia and Auburn are among the best in the coun­try and have them poised for a run at the playoffs.

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