One great season.
One bad game.
The Georgia Bulldogs have been brilliant defensively under first-year coordinator Dan Lanning but stumbled like everybody else has against high-powered LSU, which racked up 481 yards in its 37-10 trampling earlier this month at the Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta. The Bulldogs are headed back to the Sugar Bowl for a second consecutive season after missing the College Football Playoff and will challenge Baylor, the runner-up to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Conference.
"I love our players, and they've really bought into what we've tried to do," Lanning said while seated in a locker room in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. "Tonight didn't exemplify what we've done all year, but this year has been a really good year from the standpoint of a lot of guys have contributed and done a lot to help us play good ball.
"We weren't able to carry that over, but that's no discredit to what they've done all year."
The Bulldogs will head to New Orleans seeking to lead the SEC in scoring defense for the first time since 2002 and in total defense for the first time since 1968. They have allowed 274.2 yards and 12.5 points per game even after the loss to LSU, with Florida's defensive averages of 299.0 and 14.4 ranking next in line within the league.
Georgia's 162 points allowed rank second nationally to the 138 surrendered by Clemson, and the Bulldogs played their first nine games without allowing a rushing touchdown. That streak ended in the 21-14 win at Auburn, when Tigers quarterback Bo Nix scored on a 2-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, and that remains the only rushing score Georgia has yielded.
Lanning was promoted in February to oversee the defense after last season's coordinator, Mel Tucker, was named head coach at Colorado. The Bulldogs posted shutouts of Arkansas State, Kentucky and Missouri, and they did not allow 21 points in any of their 12 regular-season games.
LSU passing-game coordinator Joe Brady recently earned the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach, but Lanning was a finalist for that honor.
"I think all of our defensive coaches do a tremendous job, and he would be the first to tell you that what we've been able to do is due to the players and also the defensive staff," Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart said. "All those guys pull together to do that. He just has to be the leader and the guy in charge of it all. He's done a really nice job of motivating the players. He relates well to the players. The players believe in him, and he's done a tremendous job.
"All those coaches have done a tremendous job. Glenn Schumann is one of our co-defensive coordinators, and he does just as much game-planning as Dan does. He deserves just as much credit as Dan gets. Dan is just the guy that calls it on game day, and he's done a good job."
Lanning, 33, has been at Georgia for just two seasons after serving as inside linebackers coach at Memphis. He has worked with outside linebackers in Athens.
The Bulldogs attained their defensive success this season without a lot of headlining acts, as only senior safety J.R. Reed was named by league coaches to the All-SEC first team. Georgia's only defensive representative to the SEC's second team was senior tackle Tyler Clark.
Collecting turnovers is the only aspect to Georgia's defense that hasn't been dominating, with the Bulldogs compiling just 13 in 13 games. Only Vanderbilt's 11 gained turnovers are fewer than Georgia's total among league teams.
"We've got to get more takeaways," Lanning said. "You try to emphasize it, and we do know there are certain defenses you can play that are going to be more predicated to create takeaways and maybe have more eyes for the ball, and we didn't necessarily play as many of those this season as we could have.
"At the same time, we've had some opportunities, whether 50-50 balls that we could have won, a ball hits the ground that we could have recovered, or a ball that we could have gotten out a little sooner, so that's something we'll go back and look at and see what we can fix."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.