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Georgia Football

Just How Stingy Was the Georgia Bulldogs' 2021 National Championship Defense?

May 2, 2022

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The Georgia Bulldogs are the reigning College Football National Champion. They’ve also now “won” the 2022 NFL Draft with a record fifteen players drafted - including nine selected among the first three rounds.  

NFL franchises, with nearly unlimited resources and millions upon millions wagered on their coveted draft selections, clearly saw what the casual fan saw too: Georgia had an unbelievably talented defense in 2021, as a record five defensive players were taken in the first round.

As fans now anxiously await a new college football season, it is a good time to reflect upon the Georgia 2021 National Championship-winning defense.  With some hindsight it appears obvious that perceptions of Georgia’s defense were (momentarily) clouded by one uncharacteristically bad quarter in the SEC Championship game.  By every metric, some of which are detailed below, and after a review of the other fifty-nine quarters of football that UGA played in its Championship season, it is abundantly clear that their defense was legendary.  

Any discussion of Georgia’s defense starts with its supremely talented front seven, from which three of its defensive linemen were just drafted in the first round:  Travon Walker (1st overall pick), Jordan Davis (13) and Dvonte Wyatt (28), while three of its linebackers were taken in the first three rounds:  Quay Walker (22), Nakobe Dean (83), and Channing Tindall (102). (Oh yeah, safety Lewis Cine was drafted with the last pick of the first round too!)  Amazingly, most “experts” believe that the most talented player on Georgia’s front seven was defensive lineman Jalen Carter who is not yet draft eligible and will likely be a high first round draft pick next year, along with likely high draft picks next year in linebacker Nolan Smith and cornerback Kelee Ringo.  In other words, the 2021 front seven consisted of eight top NFL draft picks.  This does not even include Jermaine Johnson who transferred to Florida State for more playing time and was just drafted in the first round, as well as “unicorn” athlete Adam Anderson who was dismissed from Georgia during the 2021 season and, if not for his legal issues, would likely have been a first-round draft pick.  

Check out Dawgstruction - our coffee table book about the 2021 national title... CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

As far as on field performance this past season, obviously, the main goal of any defense is to keep their opponent off the scoreboard and Georgia’s defense was certainly up to the task. Despite the advanced analytics available, “points allowed” continues to be one of the most often cited statistic when debating the merits of a defense, although the way this statistic is usually expressed can be improved upon. With a slightly deeper analysis of “points allowed,” including a few necessary wrinkles of the same, one can more accurately track a defense’s performance, including a better illustration of the sheer dominance of Georgia’s Defense.  

Here is a more accurate reflection of Georgia’s defense, through a corrected lens of the “points allowed” statistic: 

“Defensive” Points Allowed in 15 Games: 132 (8.8 points per game)

When analyzing a defense, for some unknown reason, “points allowed” is usually determined by the number of points a particular team, as a whole, gave up during the season.  Georgia's "team" gave up 154 points during their 15-game season, or 10.3 points per game, but the defense only gave up 132 points.  For example, “defensive points allowed” would not include a pick-6 thrown by a Georgia quarterback and why should it when analyzing a defense’s performance?  Georgia’s defense gave up less than nine points (8.8) a game in 2021.

“Non-Garbage Time” Points Allowed by the Defense in 15 Games: 94 (6.3 points per game)

Most of Georgia’s regular season games (and it’s CFP Semi-Final Game against Michigan) were effectively over by the start of the fourth quarter (or earlier), when Georgia would begin liberally substituting bench players.  It can be assumed that the defense, including second and third string players do not want to give up any points, at any time, to any opponents.  Yet, to really understand just how elite this unit was in 2021, one can and should deduct garbage time scores against generally young and inexperienced players who have yet to play in meaningful game situations.  When removing “garbage time” scores given up by the defense – like in the final moments of a game when Georgia is up by four scores (see e.g., Kentucky and South Carolina games) – Georgia’s defense gave up less than a touchdown (6.3 points) per game. 

“Net” Non-Garbage Time Points Allowed: 55 (3.7 points per game)

Fans will likely never forget that the magical 2021 season was bookended by Georgia defensive touchdowns (and perhaps providing a fitting symmetry, the first round of the draft was bookended by Georgia defensive players). Georgia’s first points of the season were scored on Chris Smith’s pick-6 against Clemson in the first game and, of course, the last points were scored by Kelee Ringo on his chill-inducing pick-6 against Alabama in the Championship.  Again, to truly understand the dominance of the 2021 UGA Defense, why not back out the 39 points scored by the defense and special teams itself? If a defense’s ultimate goal is to prevent the other team from scoring, surely scoring itself is even better than forcing a punt.  After “netting” out interception returns for touchdowns, safeties and blocked punt scores, Georgia’s defense – in non-garbage time (when Georgia was playing their defensive starters and traditional rotational players) – gave up just a little more than a field goal (3.7 points) per game!

"Any Time" Net Points Allowed: 93 (6.2 points per game) 

For those that push back on the “garbage time” verses “non garbage” time analysis, it is still the case that regardless of the game situation, the “net” of Georgia’s defensive efforts at “any time” during the season was to allow only 93 points in fifteen games.  Allowing 132 points, while scoring 39 itself, meant that Georgia’s defense (without accounting for garbage time scores), was responsible for their opponents’ netting less than a touchdown (6.2 points) per game.

It should be noted that the above numbers, while astounding, are actually skewed (though still beyond elite) by that second quarter of the SEC Championship Game.  Again, this was the one and only quarter (out of the 60 quarters played this season) in which this historic defense did not play up to its elite standard. UGA's defense surrendered 24 points to Alabama in the second quarter of the SECCG.  This was over 18% of the points allowed all season, in one quarter.  Well, the critics might say: “that’s what happens when they played ‘the best,’ like Alabama.”  However, in contrast, UGA’s defense surrendered only 28 points in the other seven quarters combined that it played against Alabama.  During that same span, the defense also scored seven points of its own, for a “net” of yielding the equivalent of only a field goal (3.0 points) a quarter.

Is the 2021 Georgia Defense The Best Ever?

When discussing the best defenses in “modern” College Football history, the gold standards are usually Miami in 2001 and Alabama in 2011, as these discussions tend focus on teams from this century given significant changes to the game over time. Although, even in more recent times, like the last 8-10 years, most agree it has become even harder to play defense with the popularity of spread offenses among top programs and rule changes that disadvantage the defense, including those designed to protect players.  Kirby Smart himself, after the 2014 College Football Playoffs, explained how he changed the philosophy of the defense he was running at Alabama – to a smaller and faster unit that could play better in space.  In other words, after the proliferation of the spread offense and hybrid-type offensive players who can, without substituting, motion from a heavy running set to a spread passing formation, it has become even harder to play defense and perhaps defensive units like Georgia’s most recent should be graded on a curve.
All of this is to say that it is hard to compare different eras and even different decades, given the rapid pace of change to the game, and to say definitively who is the best.  And to be sure, it often takes years to truly appreciate where a defensive unit belongs in the pantheon of the greatest.  Nonetheless, based upon the record-setting high-level NFL talent of the unit and its performance across fifteen games in this offense-dominated era, UGA’s defense (already) must be considered among the best of all-time and it seems likely that even in years to come, the 2021 Georgia Defense will remain in the conversation as among the best ever.

Check out Dawgstruction - our coffee table book about the 2021 national title... CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

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