ATHENS -- Saturday’s game between Georgia and LSU was a good old-fashioned shootout. There were 85 points scored. Big plays were made by both offenses with almost 950 total yards.
And yet the hidden story of the entire game is the Georgia defense?
That’s right. The Bulldogs’ defense made the plays when it had to. Sure, there were frustrations and missed plays and a third-and-22 for LSU that was converted that probably had many calling for Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s head.
But after Georgia regained the lead with less than two minutes remaining, the defense had to make a stop. Someone had to finally make a stop on defense -- when it counted the most.
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Dodge County product Leonard Floyd, an August sensation who won a starting job and has become a key member of the defense, made the big play. On LSU’s first play, with the Tigers needing to drive down the field to at least try and tie the game, Floyd sacked Tigers quarterback Zack Mettenberger.
“I told the coaches in the huddle, ‘I’m ready. I’m getting ready to make a play for us right now.’ And I went out and made the play, and it helped us win the game,” Floyd said.
The sack set the tone. Mettenberger completed one 18-yard pass to Odell Beckham Jr., but that was it. Four incomplete passes later, and the game was over.
“We came out and said, ‘This is the game here. We’ve got to go,’ ” Floyd said. “We came out, and we played. It’s a great lift for this defense.”
“It definitely shows our potential and what our future holds,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “If we can play like that consistently, we’re going to have a great defense, and that’s going to get us to where we want to go.”
This is not trying to put lipstick on a pig. The Georgia defense, particularly the secondary, had serious issues trying to contain the outstanding offensive skill players for LSU. Mettenberger, at times, looked like a future first-round NFL draft pick, and there’s little doubt Beckham and Jarvis Landry will be playing on Sunday afternoons. But when it came to crunch time, and one of the two defenses had to make a play, Georgia’s got the job done.
“We keep preaching, ‘Keep slugging,’ and the difference in the game was in two minutes we got a touchdown, and they didn’t get anything,” Grantham said. “Guys kept playing, and guys kept answering the bell. It wasn’t always perfect, but when you’ve got as many freshmen as we’ve got out there, you’re going to have that against a team that’s got some NFL-quality guys that are seniors. I thought we were closer to the ball in the latter part of the second half, and at the end, we finally made plays.”
The most promising statistic for Georgia’s defense is LSU’s rushing total. A Tigers team that had averaged 221 rushing yards in the first four games got only 77 net rushing yards against the Bulldogs. That came one week after Georgia held North Texas to only 7 net yards on the ground.
“We played them the right way,” Grantham said. “We’ve just got to play better. We stopped the run, and we really didn’t load the backs to do it. We found ways to minimize that and kept playing.
“We’re young. When you face a team that’s got the weapons like they do, you’re going to give up some explosive plays. Now obviously we don’t want to do that. But you’ve got to keep playing and do the things you have to do to win the game. That’s what we did. We found a way to win the game.”
Everyone knew Georgia’s offense might have to carry the team until the young defense caught up. And there’s no doubt quarterback Aaron Murray, who had another great game, can put points on the scoreboard. He came through with a great drive to get the lead back for Georgia and went 4-for-4 with 55 yards passing, including the game-winner to Justin Scott-Wesley.
But if the Bulldogs are going to continue their winning streak, at some point the defense must win a game instead of having the offense just outscore the opponent. The fourth-down stop on South Carolina three weeks ago was huge, and chances are the stop on the final drive Saturday against LSU will go a long way in making the Georgia defense better down the road.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.