Georgia defense on pace for a historic season

Georgia photo/Tony Walsh / Georgia junior safety Richard LeCounte scoops up a fumble during Saturday night's 21-0 victory over Kentucky in Sanford Stadium.

ATHENS, Ga. - All the conversation about Georgia's offensive challenges this football season, whether the lack of receiver separation, eliminating turnovers that plagued the Bulldogs against South Carolina or producing more explosive plays, has overshadowed an impressive storyline developing under fourth-year coach Kirby Smart.

The Bulldogs are assembling a defensive season to remember.

"They're resilient and physically tough," Smart said after Saturday's 21-0 blanking of Kentucky, Georgia's second shutout in its 6-1 start. "This was a ground-and-pound game, and we knew it would be that way."

While Saturday's miserable conditions did little for Georgia's offensive numbers except its running game headed by junior tailback D'Andre Swift, the Bulldogs benefited from the elements in holding the Wildcats to 177 total yards. Kentucky completed 2 of 16 passes for 17 yards, and the shutout clinched a seventh straight contest in which Georgia has not allowed a rushing touchdown - the only Bowl Subdivision program to accomplish that this season.

Georgia is entering its second open date ranked fourth nationally in fewest points allowed (10.6), fifth in rushing defense (85.7), sixth in total defense (266.7) and 18th in pass defense (181.0). The Bulldogs would be yielding 8.6 points a game had it not been for interceptions returned for touchdowns thrown by starting quarterback Jake Fromm against South Carolina and backup Stetson Bennett against Murray State.

The Bulldogs also allowed a touchdown against Notre Dame early in the second quarter after Tyler Simmons fumbled away a punt return at Georgia's 8-yard line.

"Every week we come out here trying to eliminate any passes," junior safety Richard LeCounte III said. "We get a lot of pressure from our linebackers and our D-linemen, so that makes it way easier to cover guys when our guys are getting after the quarterback."

Georgia leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense, run defense and total defense. The Bulldogs last led the league in scoring defense in 2002, when they gave up 15.1 points per game during that SEC championship season, and they last led the league in total defense during their league championship season in 1968.

The Bulldogs last topped the conference in rushing defense in 1985, and they never have swept those three categories since the SEC started tracking such statistics in 1948.

This banner defensive year is transpiring after senior safety J.R. Reed was Georgia's only first- or second-team representative on defense during the league's annual media days event in July. The Bulldogs held Notre Dame to 22.2 points below its season average in their 23-17 win on Sept. 21, but more big tests follow this open date, beginning with Florida in Jacksonville on Nov. 2.

Florida is averaging 32.5 points per game in Dan Mullen's second season as coach, having scored at least 24 points in every contest.

The Bulldogs also have games against Missouri on Nov. 9 and at Auburn on Nov. 16. Mizzou is averaging 35.3 points per game, Auburn 36.3.

"We're just going to focus on the basics this week - improve our tackling and footwork and holding our gaps," redshirt sophomore cornerback Eric Stokes said. "We also need to get everybody healthy, because every game is a big game from here on out."

Richt suffers scare

Former Georgia coach Mark Richt and current ACC Network analyst Mark Richt announced Monday morning on social media that he had suffered a heart attack.

"I am doing fine," Richt posted on Twitter. "As I went through the experience, I had peace knowing I was going to heaven, but I was going to miss my wife. I plan to be at work this week."

Richt guided the Bulldogs to a 145-51 record from 2001 to 2015, winning SEC titles in 2002 and 2005.

Reed recognized

Reed is among the 14 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given annually to college football's top defensive back. Former cornerback Deandre Baker won Georgia's first Thorpe Award last year.

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.