During the telecast of Georgia’s victory at Tennessee last weekend, CBS analyst Gary Danielson said the Bulldogs usually are built on defense but now are carried by offense. I thought that was a bit much. Georgia’s defense understandably slipped after so many of its players went on to the NFL, but it’s still an elite unit.

After watching Georgia labor to slow Georgia Tech on Saturday night, I’m thinking that Danielson might be on to something. The Bulldogs beat the Yellow Jackets for the sixth consecutive time, but Tech scored the most points in the series since abandoning the triple-option. The Bulldogs had to recover an onside kick to secure the victory because Tech scored on its final two drives.

Georgia’s shorthanded offense fueled the 31-23 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium and many others during another 12-0 regular season. Can the Bulldogs rely on that that formula against Alabama in the SEC Championship game Saturday and the College Football Playoff after that?

“Naw,” Georgia safety Javon Bullard said. “We are in crunch time. This is championship week, playoff mode. (If) we give up 200 yards rushing to Bama, it’s not going to end pretty.”

He’s right about that. The Jackets lost because they had little chance of stopping Georgia. Alabama’s defense is much better. The Bulldogs are going to have to do better than allowing five scores on eight full drives. They especially can’t be so vulnerable against the run.

Tech ran for 223 yards on 42 carries (sack yardage excluded). It’s the third time this season that Georgia allowed more than five yards per carry. That never happened over 15 games in 2022. Quarterback Haynes King scored two touchdown runs. Georgia has allowed two rushing touchdowns in three games this season. That never happened in 2022, either.

The evidence suggests Georgia’s defense isn’t playing up to the championship standard that’s been set. That probably explains why Bullard seemed dejected after the top-ranked Bulldogs earned another victory over their in-state rival and 29th in a row overall.

“I feel like we still haven’t played our best game all year,” Bullard said. “We’ve shown flashes, but we have yet to play a four-quarter game.”

Georgia’s offense picked up the slack despite missing top pass-catchers Brock Bowers (ankle) and Ladd McConkey (ankle). The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions in the first half to lead 21-13 at the break. Georgia pushed the advantage to 31-13 late in the third quarter, but couldn’t shake the Jackets because its defense couldn’t stifle them.

Run defense was the main issue. Tech offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner, a former UGA assistant, befuddled the Bulldogs by calling lots of ball fakes and misdirection plays. King ran for 63 yards on eight tries, not counting sacks, and scored on rushes of 9 and 5 yards.

“He made good decisions, and we looked like we mis-fit some things, but I’ve got to go back and watch it,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “They might have just whipped us.”

Georgia’s one big mistake on offense gave the Jackets life after they seemed finished. It happened on a mystifying play call when the Bulldogs led 31-16. They faced a third-and-5 six yards from Tech’s end zone with less than nine minutes left in the game.

Tech had shown no ability to prevent Georgia from running the ball. Even if the Jackets got a stop, a short field goal would put Georgia up three scores with less than eight minutes to play. The Bulldogs decided to pass. Carson Beck’s throw was tipped by Tech safety Jaylon King and intercepted by K.J. Wallace in the end zone.

“We’re trying to score a touchdown,” Smart said. “We are not going to play for a field goal.”

The Jackets took that gift interception and turned it into a 10-play TD drive. They converted a fourth-and-1 at UGA’s 15-yard line and King scored on a 5-yard run after a fake. The Jackets trailed 31-23 with 3:46 left and three timeouts. They had to try an onside kick because their defense had forced just one three-and-out all game.

Georgia’s C.J. Allen recovered the onside kick. The Bulldogs gained two first downs to run out the clock. They won despite a shaky game from the defense.

“There’s a lot to work on,” Georgia linebacker Smael Mondon said. “We didn’t play our best.”

I don’t want to overstate Georgia’s defensive issues. The Bulldogs allowed just seven points to Tennessee when it mattered. Two weeks ago, Georgia held Ole Miss’ high-powered offense to 14 points before the game turned into a blowout. Georgia entered Saturday with the nation’s No. 5 scoring defense.

Also, Tech gave a spirited and determined effort.

“I give credit where credit is due,” Bullard said. “Those guys came out with their hats on fire. They played like they wanted to win the game. They had a great running game. The quarterback was into it, made plays with his legs.”

Georgia has a very good defense. It just didn’t look like a championship defense against Tech and a few other times this season. The Bulldogs will have to be better against Bama and beyond.

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