Until the afternoon of Dec. 4, the Georgia Bulldogs had the most feared college football defense. Then the Alabama football offense scorched the Bulldogs’ defense for 536 yards. Much of the college football world was stunned.
In the Orange Bowl semi-final, the Georgia defense returned to form and held Michigan’s respected offense to three first-half points. The Wolverines did not find the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. What happened was a physically tougher and faster Georgia team beat up on Michigan. Almost immediately, many in the national, sports media re-anointed the Bulldogs as the nation’s best defense. It was like the SEC Championship game never happened.
A closer look at the defenses of Alabama and Georgia yields a different conclusion. There is no question, until the SEC Championship game, Georgia’s defense had been dominant. But that dominance came against some weak offenses. Using as a guide, the team ratings by ESPN for Offensive Efficiency, the best offenses the Bulldogs faced before Michigan were Josh Heupel’s Tennessee Volunteers and Mark Stoops’ Kentucky Wildcats. According to ESPN’s algorithm, the Vols were No. 17 and the Wildcats were No. 19 in the FBS in Offensive Efficiency.
The Alabama Crimson Tide defense was downgraded early by media and fans when it struggled to slow the Florida Gators. As the season transpired, Pete Golding’s (and Nick Saban) defense improved significantly.
The early opinion of the Bulldogs resulted from what was then an impressive defeat of Clemson. The Tigers did not score a touchdown on the Bulldogs. It was not known until weeks after that game, how poor the 2021 Clemson offense was.
Alabama Football Defense Faced Better Offenses
Looking at the entire season for both teams, the Alabama defense faced tougher competition. Using the ESPN data for top 20 offenses, Georgia beat offenses ranked No. 8; No. 17 and No. 19. The Crimson Tide beat offenses ranked No. 2; No. 15; No. 17; No. 18. That is arguably a more impressive resume.
Put aside those numbers and consider what the two defenses are best doing. Neither team has an edge, from being equally good at stopping the run. The other essentials for a top defense favor the Tide. Alabama’s ‘D’ is better at sacking quarterbacks. The Crimson Tide ‘D’ – even without Josh Jobe or Jaylin Armour-Davis – has the better secondary.
The point of this post is not to disparage a very good Georgia defense. Kirby’s group is physically tough and can punish opponents. The point is, at the season’s end, the Crimson Tide defense is at least as good and probably better.