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Talkin’ Spring Ball: Georgia’s Run Defense

“Nice. Not thrilling. But nice.” History of the World Part 1 is one of the all-time classics. Mel Brooks takes viewers on a historical journey as only he can. In one of the segments, viewers are taken to Ancient Rome, where Emperor Nero is presented with gifts from Roman General Marcus Vindictus. Nero’s response to the gifts echoes a similar sentiment to Dawg Nation’s thoughts on feelings on Gerogia’s run defense in 2023. After having a brick wall for a run defense in their back-to-back title runs, Georgia’s run defense failed to meet those loft expectations. The run defense ranked 37th in the country, allowing 113.4 yards per game, and 49th in yards per carry at 3.97 yards per attempt. These are respectable numbers for most programs, but it is not good enough when a team fails to win the SEC Championship or make the College Football Playoff.

We’ve broken down the running backs, wide receivers, and secondary. It’s time to turn our focus to Georiga’s front seven and the expectations in 2024. Let’s start by hearing what Kirby Smart said after last week’s scrimmage.

Smart’s Evaluation of Georgia’s Run Defense

Reporters asked Smart several times in the press conference about Georiga’s run defense. The head coach’s response showed his irritability about the question but provided insights into his evaluation. “I do not know where this is coming from, maybe a narrative out there I don’t know about. I have no idea what you guys are reading or saying or seeing. I am not down on our run defense. We are not as good as we were that year (with Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, and other current NFL players), but we are better than we have been many other years.”

Georgia’s defenses showcased their elite prowess during their two championship runs. In 2021, they allowed fewer than 11 points per game, marking the lowest for any Big Ten defense since 1997. The following year, in 2022, the unit ranked among the top 10 in college football with just 14.27 points per game allowed. Additionally, they led the SEC in yards-per-play allowed, highlighting their dominant defensive performance.

Despite the setback in 2023, Smart remains optimistic about the group in 2024. In his remarks, Smart stressed how it is up to him and the coaches to ensure the unit improves. “We have to get better. We have players on our defensive line who can get better. The worst feeling as a coach is when you don’t have players that you can get better. There are coaches all across the country on the defensive line who don’t have one 300-pounder. We’ve got several.”

Inside Linebackers Lead Georgia’s Run Defense

While those brick wall defenses in 2021 and 2022 relied upon Carter and Davis to form a pseudo brick wall to anchor their defense, Georgia’s ruck defense will be successful based on the versatility of its young linebackers. Injuries forced CJ Allen and Raylen Wilson to grow up quickly as freshmen last season. In his debut start, Allen showcased his talent with a team-leading nine tackles, including four solo stops and a sack for a seven-yard loss, helping secure a victory against Ole Miss and earning him the title of SEC Freshman of the Week. Wilson also recognized for his skills, was selected for the SEC All-Freshman Team after playing in 12 games and starting once at ILB.

Allen and Wilson’s emergence impacted Jamon Dumas-Johnson’s decision to transfer to Kentucky for his final season. Dumas-Johsnon injury in the Tennessee game knocked him out for the season. Smael Mondon, Jr. returns as the most experienced of the group. Mondon’s impressive performance earned him a Coaches All-SEC Second Team spot. He played in 13 games last season, starting 11 at LB, and ranked second on the team with 68 tackles.

Time to Step Up

As Smart said, Georgia is blessed with a mass of talent in the form of 300-pound defensive linemen. If Georgia’s run defense returns to elite status in 2024, the Bulldogs will need more from this group. Here are a few key names to keep your eye on at G-Day on Saturday. Nazir Stackhouse and Warren Brinson are both returning from the 2023 team. Stackhouse was recognized as an AP and Coaches All-SEC Second Team selection. He started every game at DL this season, tallying 24 tackles. Brinson played in 13 games, starting four at DL, with 21 tackles, three for a 20-yard loss, and two sacks.

Smart spoke about how both players provide experience and depth to Georgia’s run defense, but he also expects improvement. “If they stay the same, they did no good coming back. We’ve had multiple talks about how easy it is to get comfortable and complacent in these years, but they both have a purpose. So, are they going to have a chip on their shoulder? Or are they just going to sit around and, you know, collect? I hope they get better. I hope they grow up. They intend to move up and improve their draft status and get their degrees, and both of them are on track to do that.” While those words were meant for Stackhouse and Brinson, the same sentiment can be held for Georgia’s run defense in 2024.

Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports


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