What just happened: Georgia’s defense turns up heat in win over Florida

This question isn’t meant to disrespect any past program. It isn’t meant to be hyperbole, to state something so outlandish based on the long storied history of college football.

It isn’t meant to overstate what has happened to date through the 2021 season.

But it’s hard not to ask this, given what has taken place thus far.

Could this Georgia defense be the best to ever play in the history of college football?

The first defense that comes to mind to fit this category is the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, which featured Ed Reed, Vince Wilfork, Jonathan Vilma, Phillip Buchanon, Antrel Rolle, William Joseph, Matt Walters, Andrew Williams, and Darrell McClover. And quite honestly, this Georgia defense sure looks better.

The 2001 Hurricanes pitched three shutouts and won five other games where their opponents scored seven points or less. However, they also gave up 21 or more in two games in the first five of that season.

The Bulldogs have yet to allow more than 13 points. Georgia stifled Florida in a 27-7 victory, where the Gators had trouble moving the ball as well as capitalizing when getting into the Bulldogs’ territory.

While a lot has been made about which quarterback is starting, it may not matter. If this defense continues to play like this, Georgia could start Jackson Muschamp and be just fine.

OK, now that might be a bit of hyperbole. But the point still remains.

Georgia’s defense has been absolutely dominant through eight games in an otherwise pass-happy era when points are put on the scoreboard with regularity. Georgia’s defensive line dominated Florida’s defensive line, and quarterback Anthony Richardson had nowhere to go with the ball.

Georgia fans, please enjoy this defense while you have it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime unit.

What it means 

For a quarter and a half, there was some worry as to how this game would go. Georgia’s offense should have put up more points early in the game. It saw place-kicker Jack Podlesny miss a field goal and quarterback Stetson Bennett throw an interception.

Still, the defense did its part, with Georgia holding a 3-0 lead with less than three minutes to play in the first half. Suddenly, linebacker Nolan Smith forced and recovered a fumble, which running back James Cook turned into a touchdown on the next play from scrimmage, with less than three minutes to go in the second quarter.

Shortly after, Smith picked off a tipped ball by Travon Walker, which turned into a touchdown throw from Bennett to Kearis Jackson.

Then, with seven seconds left to go in the half, linebacker Nakobe Dean intercepted Richardson for a pick-six.

This defense is amazing. I’m not sure there’s an offense in the nation that could rattle it.

Three important plays

Smith’s forced fumble: Richardson should have fallen to the turf on this play. Still, with 2:22 left to play in the second quarter, Richardson wanted some extra yards on a quarterback run. Smith, however, had other plans, and ripped the ball from Richardson’s hands. This gave Georgia the ball at the Florida 11-yard line, with Cook scoring on the next play.

Smith’s interception: With Georgia leading 10-0, Richardson attempted a pass over the middle, with Walker deflecting the ball. This allowed Smith to pick off the pass at the Florida 34-yard line and subsequently return it to Florida 36. On the next play from scrimmage, Bennett threw a touchdown pass to Jackson. This extended Georgia’s lead to 17-0 in a fairly short period near the end of the first half.

Dean’s pick: Not to be outdone with the late first-half surge, Dean saw Richardson looking to his right to hit a receiver near the sideline with only a matter of seconds to go in the second quarter. As Richardson released the ball, Dean broke on the play and intercepted the pass. He returned it 50 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bulldogs a 24-0 lead at the half.

Grading Georgia 

Offense: B

Bennett threw two picks and running back Kenny McIntosh lost a fumble—sore spots for the offense on Saturday. Still, the Bulldogs did enough to put pressure on the Florida defense. Bennett ended his day with 161 yards for one touchdown and two interceptions. Although it wasn’t Bennett’s best day, the rest of the team did more than enough to get the victory. The Georgia running backs were tremendous, however, combining for 33 carries for 193 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Zamir White led the way with 14 carries for 105 yards a score, with his 42-yard touchdown scamper late in the fourth quarter, putting an exclamation point on the afternoon.

Defense: A

Again, you can legitimately argue that this defense has a chance to go down as the best in college football history if it keeps going at this pace.

Special teams: B+

Podlesny missed from 46 yards but came back to hit a 43-yarder in the third quarter. The latter score is likely to put the coaches at ease.

Georgia’s field goal block team did a great job forcing a wide left on Florida’s second attempt of the game in the third quarter. The group didn’t block it, but the pressure seemed to force a the kick to go awry.

Coaching: A

Although the game was tight early, there didn’t seem to be any panic from anyone on the Georgia sideline. The Bulldogs stuck with the game plan and came out victorious once again. Give the coaches a ton of credit for getting the job done against a hated rival.

Season to grades to date

Offense: B+

Defense: A

Special teams: B+

Coaching: A

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