This was South Carolina coach Shane Beamer after his team lost 40-13 to the Bulldogs: “They’ve got like a hundred 5-star football players on their defense. They have a defensive lineman that weighs 340 pounds and runs better than anybody on this (Zoom) call. They’ve got 5-star defensive backs. They’re big, physical and fast. Other than that, they’re really freakin’ good. … There wasn’t some magical scheme they came out with tonight. They’ve got 5-star recruits everywhere.”
Yes, they were gifted. Yes, they were superbly coached. What made the Bulldogs all but impregnable was that they had so many moving parts. According to Rivals via Pro Football Focus, Walker played 60% of Georgia’s snaps. No other defensive lineman worked more than 42%, not even Davis (38%). That defense stands as an object lesson. That defense is what comes of stacking 5-stars atop 5-stars.
In his most recent mock draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper had Walker at No. 3 overall, Davis at No. 17, Dean at No. 18, Devonte Wyatt at No. 27 and Lewis Cine at No. 32. That’s three linemen, one linebacker and one defensive back. Kiper had two more Bulldogs – linebackers Quay Walker and Channing Tindall – going before the midpoint of Round 2.
That would make seven players from one unit – Tindall, Kiper notes, “never even made a start” – populating the first 45 selections. That’s outrageous. But it’s not crazy. It’s how Georgia won it all with a former walk-on at quarterback. Defensive excellence kept the Bulldogs in every game. The utilitarian offense didn’t put its defense in bad spots. (Jake Camarda’s punting didn’t hurt.) Defensive depth wore down opposing offenses, which meant opposing defenses never rested long.
Georgia trailed Alabama 18-13 with 8:10 remaining in the title game. The Bulldogs won 33-18. Their final touchdown came on Kelee Ringo’s interception return. This surely was Smart’s vision for the best of his Georgia teams, which might have been the best of all Georgia teams. This was proof that defense, even in the 21st century, can still prevail.
The two previous national champs – LSU and Bama – took their titles with irresistible offenses. Apart from one Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Georgia’s defense resisted everything. LSU’s 2019 titlists scored 105 points in two playoff games; the next year, Alabama managed 83. The Bulldogs’ two playoff opponents mustered 29 points.
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The greatest accolade for Georgia’s defense could come Thursday night. We knew a while ago that this was a defense of brutish beauty. Should five defenders go in Round 1, that defense would become certifiably historic.