The reigning national champions are the focus of today’s 99 Things. The Georgia Bulldogs had one of the best defenses we have ever seen. Now Georgia has to retool the defense in order to defend their title. The Bulldogs had five players from their defense drafted in the first round of the NFL draft and Butkus award winner Nakobe Dean was not one of them. Georgia has recruited incredibly well which should means the defense will once again be one of the best in SEC. Their recruiting and development will be put to the test early and often. The defending champions will have a target on their back getting each team’s best shot on a weekly basis.
In order to talk about the 2022 defense we need to recap the 2021 defense. Georgia finished first in the country in points allowed per game. Opposing offenses averaged a staggering 9.5 points per game. The next closest team was Clemson who allowed 15.0 points per game. The Bulldogs finished second in yards allowed per game (239.5), third in passing yards allowed per game (172.2) and third in rushing yards allowed per game (81.7). Georgia also finished first in redzone defense allowing scores on 62.5% of attempts. Opposing offenses only scored nine touchdowns on 32 redzone attempts. The defense also finished seventh in sacks averaging 3.27 sacks per game. At least 10 different players registered 2.0 sacks or more.
The 2022 NFL draft saw eight Bulldogs drafted to NFL rosters. Travon Walker (pick 1), Jordan Davis (pick 13), Quay Walker (pick 22), Devonte Wyatt (pick 28), Lewis Cine (pick 32), Nakobe Dean (pick 83), Channing Tindall (pick 102) and Derion Kendrick (pick 212) will all be playing on Sundays this fall. Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning left to be the head coach at Oregon. Will Muschamp and Glenn Schumann will split the duties this fall. Most teams would look at the list of players departing and be worried about replenishing the units but not Georgia.
This fall will feature some familiar names for fans and a few new ones. Defensive lineman Jalen Carter is already being touted as a first round pick. Carter finished second on the team in tackles for loss with 8.5 while also tallying 3.0 sacks. Former five star linebacker Nolan Smith is expected to be a focal part of the defense. He finally gets his chance to be the star after waiting behind fellow linebackers Dean, Walker and Tindall. Smith finished last season with 53 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He has a great chance to carry on the recent legacy of Georgia linebackers to win the Butkus award.
The secondary will be led by national championship superstar Kelee Ringo. Fans remember Ringo as the defensive back who intercepted Bryce Young in the fourth quarter where he scored the game sealing touchdown. Ringo finished last season with two interceptions and eight passes defended. Analysts have already started predicting him to be a finalist for the Thorpe award this fall. The safety position is locked down by Chris Smith. Smith finished with three interceptions and four passes defended last fall. The fifth year player also returned one interception for a touchdown. His veteran presence will be needed as the Bulldogs will be breaking in a new corner opposite of Ringo.
The 2022 Georgia defense may not be able to match the dominance of the 2021 team, but they might not need to be that stellar. Stetson Bennett proved to be more than capable last fall (even if I am his biggest hater). The Bulldogs should have a more consistent offense this season meaning the team will still be in great shape even if the defense takes a step back. Defending the title is usually harder than winning the first one. Do the Bulldogs have what it takes to run it back in the College Football Playoffs?