Capital One Bowl 2013: Georgia's Rush Defense Isn't Championship-Worthy

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 1, 2013

Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead
Nebraska RB Rex BurkheadDouglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

With 10 starters returning from last season's squad, the 2012 Georgia defense was supposed to be a strength for head coach Mark Richt.

Instead, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme was soft against the run all season long, culminating with a miserable performance against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl that saw the Bulldogs give up 251 yards on the ground.

Georgia's rush defense forced the Bulldogs to get into a shootout with Nebraska. Luckily for Georgia, quarterback Aaron Murray was up for the challenge with his record-setting 427-yard, five-touchdown performance.

Rex Burkhead rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Ameer Abdullah combined for 106 more rushing yards for the Cornhuskers, keeping them within striking distance of the Bulldogs before Richt's crew pulled away in the fourth quarter.

This after a season that saw the Bulldogs give up 177.8 yards per game on the ground, the third-worst mark in the SEC this year ahead of only Auburn and Tennessee.

It was the inability to stop the run that cost Georgia a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, when Alabama's T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy ran over, around and through the Bulldogs in the second half in the Georgia Dome.

Sure, the absence of defensive tackle John Jenkins due to academics hurt the Bulldogs up front, but even with him in the lineup, Georgia's rush defense wasn't championship-worthy in 2012.

With Jenkins, Abry Jones, Cornelius Washington and an entire starting secondary graduating, and linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree likely departing early for the NFL Draft, it's only going to get worse before it gets better.

Georgia opens up with Clemson and South Carolina to start the 2013 season. Those offenses are fully capable of exploiting weaknesses in the front seven, and are more likely to do it against a defense that is plugging holes all over the field.

Bulldog offensive coordinator Mike Bobo takes on a lot of grief for his play-calling, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham let the Bulldogs down in 2012. It cost the Bulldogs a shot at the crystal football when they gave up 230 rushing yards in the 35-7 loss at South Carolina and 350 in the 32-28 SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama.

I had faith in the Georgia defense as recently as last week, but it's clear that these Bulldogs have a lot of work to do if they want to taste the ultimate success.

A proverbial glass ceiling has been above the Georgia program ever since Richt took over in 2001. With a rush defense like Georgia had in 2012, they won't break through anytime in the near future.