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Georgia photo by Perry McIntyre / Georgia second-year defensive coordinator Dan Lanning is not resting on accomplishments from last season, when the Bulldogs led the nation in fewest points allowed.

The Georgia Bulldogs led the nation in scoring defense during the 2019 college football season, yielding just 12.6 points per game.

Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning isn't resting on that accomplishment, even with the likes of defensive end Malik Herring, inside linebacker Monty Rice and safety Richard LeCounte announcing their intentions to return to Athens for their senior seasons.

"That was 2019, and this is 2020, so it really has no correlation," said Lanning, who is in his second year as coordinator and third year as outside linebackers coach for the Bulldogs. "We have to start from scratch. By no means are we the '85 Bears. We've got a lot of work to do, and our guys are embracing the challenge of getting better and focusing on that."

The back half of Georgia's regular season last year consisted of this six-pack of Power Five opponents: Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Auburn, Texas A&M and Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs held those foes to an average of just 232.3 yards per game and were fantastic at quickly making them one-dimensional.

Florida managed just 21 rushing yards in Jacksonville, while Texas A&M's ground attack was held to minus-2 yards in Athens. There was nothing through the air from Georgia Tech and Kentucky, which combined for 57 passing yards.

The Bulldogs yielded 276.0 total yards per game overall last season, leading the Southeastern Conference in that category for the first time since 1968, but Lanning cited an area that needed improving as soon as Georgia left New Orleans after a 26-14 dumping of Baylor in the Sugar Bowl.

"The biggest thing I think we've emphasized during the offseason is to finish," Lanning said. "We've talked about havoc plays a lot here in the past, and that's definitely still a big focus for us, but we want to get the ball out, finish and really impact the game by having some game-changing plays that we can create."

As stout as Georgia was defensively down the stretch, there were some late-game glitches, as a 24-10 lead over Florida became a 24-17 triumph, a 21-0 lead over Auburn became a 21-14 victory, and a 19-6 lead over Texas A&M became a 19-13 win.

Lanning also has last December's SEC championship game as a source of motivation. Georgia offered no resistance to LSU's 15-0 run to the national championship, with the Tigers thumping the Bulldogs 37-10 with an offense that racked up 26 first downs, 481 yards and converted nine of 16 third-down opportunities.

The Tigers had NFL first-round selections at quarterback (Joe Burrow), running back (Clyde Edwards-Helaire) and receiver (Justin Jefferson), and Lanning believes many of the successful plays LSU produced inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium could be seen again this season.

"That was a big study piece for us this offseason," he said. "The SEC has always been on the front end of development when it comes to the game, so I think there will be a lot of pieces that will be carried over and that we're going to see a lot of copycat plays. We put a lot of focus on how will we defend that the best moving forward.

"They did a lot of things with empty (backfields), and you see more empty in our league now than you ever have before. You saw a lot of things from motions and shifts that they created, and it was unique to face. Moving forward, I don't know how much of that we will see, but I know that we will be more prepared for it."

Nose tackle Jordan Davis and cornerback Eric Stokes also return a wealth of experience for Georgia's defense, and Lanning believes the countless Zoom meetings and the NCAA-allotted walk-through practices that preceded this past Monday's start to preseason camp have been very beneficial.

"The Zoom meetings never stopped," he said. "It was a lot fun being able to connect with somebody who seemed like they were on the other side of the world, whether it was the Los Angeles Chargers or a high school coach in Florida. We spent a lot of time on Zoom, and the key to this when you have more time is that you want to be careful you don't do too much, because ultimately it comes down to blocking and tackling and finishing on plays.

"Our mental prep, whether through walk-throughs or Zoom meetings, is actually further along than our physical prep as far as the technique that's required to execute something properly."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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