Kirby Smart spent close to a decade working as Alabama’s defensive coordinator before becoming the head coach at his alma mater, and Georgia’s defense looks like about what you would expect it to look like.
The Bulldogs’ defense is allowing 13.0 ppg through five games this season. Some of that, undoubtedly, has to do with the competition, and specifically three teams from the state of Tennessee: Georgia shut out Austin Peay in its season opener, held Middle Tennessee to 7 points (which, granted, Vanderbilt’s defense did that too), and held Tennessee to 12 points last weekend — though the Vols just had 209 yards of total offense and grabbed a couple of touchdowns after Georgia already had the game in hand. Missouri did score 29 points and had 393 yards of total offense — but both of those were well below the Tigers’ season averages (40 ppg and 540 ypg, respectively), and QB Drew Lock completed less than half his passes and threw one of his two interceptions this season.
In other words, Georgia’s defense is really good. But you probably already knew that.
The Bulldogs’ defensive dominance starts with an experienced, talented front seven that’s held opponents’ rushing attacks to just 3.6 yards per carry and 108.2 yards per game. 6’3”, 245-pound senior linebacker D’Andre Walker is starting for the first time in his career at the “Jack” position in Smart’s 3-4 defense and is the main source of havoc in Georgia’s front seven, with five tackles for loss, four sacks, and eight QB hurries on the season. The three-man defensive front is experienced and large — 6’4”, 280-pound senior DE Jonathan Ledbetter has made 20 career starts; 6’4”, 300-pound junior DT Tyler Clark has 17 career starts; and 6’5”, 300-pound junior NG Julian Rochester has 11 career starts.
Opponents have managed to have some limited success passing the ball against a rather inexperienced secondary. Senior DB Deandre Baker was a second team All-SEC selection in 2017 and might be the star of the defense, with 5 pass breakups and two interceptions so far on the season. But the rest of the secondary is more questionable. Sophomore safety Richard LeCounte is a former five-star recruit who’s now the team’s leading tackler, but his impact in the passing game has been limited with two pass breakups and he’s yet to record an interception in his college career. Former Tulsa transfer was the team’s second-leading tackler in 2017 and is again in 2018, and has one interception this season. But this is all relative; neither Missouri nor South Carolina were able to crack 300 yards passing against the Georgia defense.
It won’t be surprising if Georgia’s defense is able to shut down the Vanderbilt offense — and Vanderbilt’s offensive line will have a difficult time opening running lanes. If Vanderbilt even cracks 20 points on Saturday, that will be a win for the offense.