You can make a pretty convincing case that Georgia won the 2011 SEC East Championship in large part because of the terrific turnaround in its defense this season.
Certainly, on a day when the Dogs’ offense was again missing its top two running backs, its offensive line regressed and its quarterback at times looked like he was throwing with his eyes closed, the defense was definitely the difference in clinching the division title against Kentucky.
Time after time Saturday against Big Blue Georgia’s sputtering offense put the ball game in the defense’s hands, and that proved to be the difference, as Todd Grantham’s troops held the Wildcats to just 165 yards of offense, almost completely shutting them down in the scoreless third quarter. The Cats didn’t get a second-half first down until late in the fourth quarter.
Georgia may not have gotten many style points, at least offensively, in a game where most of their scoring came on field goals, but at the end of the day it was enough, and the Dogs are on their way to the conference championship game for the fourth time in the Mark Richt era.
Now, admittedly, Mike Bobo was dealt a pretty lousy hand when Isaiah Crowell went out for the game with a banged up ankle. With chief backup Carlton Thomas also unavailable, third-stringer Brandon Harton (with an assist from fourth-stringer Ken Malcome) had to step into the fray, and he discovered quickly that even a mediocre SEC defense like Kentucky’s is a whole lot more challenging than New Mexico State. Both Harton and Malcome coughed up the ball to derail Georgia drives.
Unfortunately, it didn’t help matters that when Crowell went to the locker room in the first half Bobo’s playbook also appeared to have gone missing, resulting in one of the more predictable (and least successful) halves the UGA offensive coordinator has had in a while. The low point came at the end of the first quarter and start of the second when three straight runs by Harton were stuffed thanks to the OL letting themselves be dominated.
But the defense persevered (in spite of at least one ridiculously blown call by the officials), and eventually, Bobo started getting a little more creative in getting Harton to the outside (hello, toss sweep!) and the tiny back finally got his 100-yard game as a Bulldog.
And Aaron Murray, who was wildly off-target at times and had a middling day overall throwing the ball, did make a really nice play when he stepped up into the pocket before finding Marlon Brown open in the back of the end zone to open the fourth quarter with Georgia’s lone touchdown.
Still, it was the shutting down of the Kentucky offense in the second half and the turnovers forced by Dog defenders that won the day for Georgia.
They’re not all going to be pretty in a nine-game winning streak, but when a team that started out 0-2 earns its way to the Dec. 3 game at the Georgia Dome, that doesn’t matter a whole lot.
This has turned into a surprisingly good season for the Dogs. They have three games left in which they have the chance to make it a great season that might be talked about for the ages.
One step at a time, though. The SEC can wait a week. First, Georgia needs to focus on the Jackets.
Feel free to share your views on Georgia’s win over Kentucky for the SEC East title.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg