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Dr. Saturday

Georgia is bringing a pretty good defense to Atlanta, too, but it only has one chance to prove it

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Jarvis Jones is 22 years old. And unlike most 22-year-olds, as a future NFL draft pick and the best player on Georgia's surging defense, some people occasionally acknowledge the words that come out of his mouth. This week, that audience included LSU players and fans alike after Jones offered up a quote

"I mean, everybody praises [the] LSU defense, but I know we've got a pretty good defense," said Jones, the SEC's leader in quarterback sacks with 13.5. "We're not cocky at all. We're just going to play. …"
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Then came the line that caught everybody's attention.

Said Jones: "I think our defense is just as good as theirs, if not better."

… which generated the obligatory lolling from Baton Rouge ahead of Saturday's SEC Championship Game. Apparently even the undisputed owner of every No. 1 vote in every major poll relishes a little bulletin board material, too.

As a point of fact, LSU's skepticism is warranted. Statistically, I mean: The Tigers rank in the top five nationally in every major category, including No. 2 in both total and scoring defense and No. 1 in turnover margin. In eight SEC games, they've allowed four touchdowns, two of them in garbage time. They rank ahead of or (in the case of tackles for loss) virtually dead even with Georgia's defense by almost every conceivable measure, against a demonstrably tougher schedule.

But Jones isn't so far off the mark, either: If Georgia has any hope of laying torch to all prevailing assumptions and scenarios in Atlanta, it will be in a low-scoring battle of attrition between two defenses matching each blow for blow — in effect, a reenactment of LSU's slugfest at Alabama on Nov. 5, one of only two games in which the Tigers have failed to score at least 35 points, and the only one that was in doubt into the fourth quarter — and the Bulldogs are better equipped to hold their own in that kind of game than they've been in years. If the UGA defense doesn't quite stack up against LSU's on paper, it's probably closer than anyone thinks. And it will be the best the Tigers have seen outside of Tuscaloosa.{YSP:MORE}

If only Georgia fans could have read that sentence in August, it would have saved them a lot of angst. At that point, their long-awaited, much pined-for transplant at defensive coordinator was very much in danger of being rejected. After five years of steady regression under ex-DC Willie Martinez, the transition to Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme produced no discernible improvement in 2010, and the record descended below .500 for the first time since 1997. The best players from that unit, leading tackler Akeem Dent and All-American Justin Houston, both left for the NFL.

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In their wake, they leave an outfit that's been quietly dominant over the course of a 10-game winning streak. Since their 0-2 start against Boise State and South Carolina, the Bulldogs have held 8 of 10 opponents to a touchdown or less on offense (not including kickoff and punt returns, which have been an issue) and six of seven SEC opponents below 300 total yards. The only attacks that have managed a sliver of success, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, combined for six turnovers.

The Big Question against LSU — in fact, the Big Question underlying Georgia's presence in this game, period — is, were any of those offenses any good? The two best teams on the schedule, Boise State and South Carolina, combined for 70 points; in the meantime, the only other offense the Bulldogs have seen that ranks among the top 60 in scoring is Georgia Tech, which scored 17 last week. At 8-4, the Yellow Jackets finished alongside Auburn (7-5) as the only winners in the entire streak.

The Tigers come into the Georgia Dome as the highest-scoring team in the conference, having just ripped off a 41-3 run against the No. 3 team in the nation en route to their best output in terms of total offense in four years. Georgia's offense isn't going to come close to that. If the defense can't cut those numbers in half… well, at least New Year's in Tampa won't come as a surprise.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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