Big Plays; The Next Step For The Georgia Defense

The Georgia Defense
COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 08: South Carolina Gamecocks running back Rico Dowdle (5) rushes the ball as Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Richard LeCounte III (2) pursues him during the game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the South Carolina Gamecocks on September 08, 2018, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC. Georgia defeated South Carolina 41-17. (Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Coach Kirby Smart came to Georgia with his reputation of smothering defenses already well established. He has only enhanced that notion in his four seasons in charge in Athens. In 2019, the Bulldogs had one of the best defenses in the country on route to an 11-2 record. Not only is Coach Smart shown his ability to design a plan each week on the defensive side of the ball, but he has established himself as an elite recruiter. The Georgia defense has stockpiled high level talent in the last few classes.

Takeaways Are The Next Step For The Georgia Defense

Over the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have finished in the top 15 in both scoring defense and yards allowed per game. In 2019 they led the nation in points allowed, giving up just 12.6 a contest. They were also the nation’s toughest defense to run the ball against, with opponents gaining just 75 yards a game on the ground. The next step for the Georgia defense is creating more turnovers. Despite the dominance they displayed a season ago, the Bulldogs ranked 112th nationally in takeaways. Improvement in this area will not only add to the defensive side of the ball, but help make things easier on offense as well. Georgia has the athletes to make game changing plays on defense. Now they just need them to step up in a more consistent manner.

Safety Net

Richard Lecounte III is the one defender who has shown consistency when it comes to taking the ball away from opponents. He will be the leader of the 2020 Georgia defense, entering his third year as a starter. Last season he had four of the Bulldogs eight interceptions. The senior safety also recovered three fumbles and forced two more. Lecounte III has a nose for the ball and always seems to be in the right spot to make a big play. He had two picks in the Sugar Bowl victory over the Baylor Bears. The rest of the Bulldog secondary needs to follow his lead and get their hands on the ball more often.

Five Star Tandem

At linebacker, the Bulldogs will have one of the most talented duos in the nation in 2020. Monty Rice and Nolan Smith were both highly rated coming out of high school, and will look the lead this Georgia defense to another dominant season. Rice was the team’s leading tackler a season ago. Like Lecounte III he decided to return for his senior season, and will likely garner major award consideration in 2020. Rice is an extremely active linebacker, and covers a lot of ground, much like former Bulldog Roquan Smith. Rice doesn’t make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage, but in Smart’s 3-4 scheme he isn’t asked to. It is his range and tackling ability that make him a problem for opposing offenses.

Smith was the nation’s top recruit in 2019, and had a solid freshman campaign in Athens. He was slightly under sized as a 235 pound edge rusher, but should add more weight to his 6”3” frame after a year in the program. The rising sophomore will look to build on the potential he showed last season. He had 18 total tackles and two and half sacks, while adding some much needed presence to the Bulldogs’ pass rush. Smith has superstar potential, and should take a step forward towards reaching those heights this season. Look for him to become very comfortable in opposing backfields in 2020.

Pressure And Production

The Georgia defense has established itself as one of the toughest in the country in terms of opponents’ struggles to move the ball and score. Now Coach Smart’s team just needs to step things up in the big play department. They made some improvements in their pass rush production from 2018 to 2019, but can still make some strides. Pressuring the quarterback can help in the turnover department as well, by forcing rushed decisions and mistakes that their play makers can pounce on. The Bulldogs depth can sometimes skew the numbers, but only Azeez Ojulari had more than two and a half sacks last season. The rising sophomore defensive end had five and half quarterback take downs in 2019.

Aside from Lecounte III, no other returning defender was involved in multiple takeaways a season ago. The Bulldogs will need a few more guys to step up and take the ball away from opponents. Georgia will be breaking in a new signal caller, and replacing the top two tailbacks on offense. That means any help in field position and big plays the defense can provide will be welcomed. The talent is certainly there, now the production just needs to materialize. Coach Smart’s defense has been smothering the past few seasons. The next step is increasing their numbers in terms of turnovers and sacks. If they do that, no offense will be safe.

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