In 2012, the Georgia Bulldogs defense had some beautiful moments. Yes, they underwhelmed viewers at times following their monumental 2011 season, but the Dawgs made the big plays when they needed to.
In creating this list, I was looking for the biggest plays that either decided a game or completely shifted the momentum in the Dawgs favor. Throughout the year, there were any number of big hits and key open-field tackles made by stellar Bulldog defenders, but my selections all have something in common: they either had either the game on the line or resulted in a major turn of the tide in favor of Georgia.
If you are interested in the top plays on the offensive side of the ball, feel free to take a look at my Top Offensive Plays for the Georgia Bulldogs in 2012.
And now...drum roll please...the defensive top 10 plays of 2012:
To start, we take a quick look at the list of plays that didn't quite make the cut. All of these were incredible to watch but, unfortunately, they just didn't fit the bill.
Shawn Williams calls out defense
I would like to start out by mentioning that this may have been the most important "defensive" play of the season and, in many other lists, could be ranked number one. Senior captain and safety Shawn Williams lit a fire under this Georgia Bulldog defense that led to a much stronger second half of the year. Without this "awakening," I truly believe the Dawgs would have had a vastly smaller chance of reaching the SEC Championship Game.
Damian Swann two-interception performance against Nebraska
This, too, was very close to making the list. Damian Swann was all over the field during the Capital One Bowl and made some incredible plays in addition to his two interceptions.
Alec Ogletree sacks Jeff Scott for safety against Ole Miss
This play did not make the list simply because the game was in hand by the time it happened. The Dawgs had come back from a ten-point deficit to lead 28-10 when Alec Ogletree dragged down the Ole Miss runner in the end zone toward the end of the third quarter for a beautiful two-point play.
Alec Ogletree body slam against Georgia Tech
This huge tackle in the Georgia Tech game just wasn't game-changing enough to make the list. Make no mistake; it was a big play though that I'm sure put the college football nation's attention on what "Tree" can do.
Bacarri Rambo big hit against Georgia Tech
In the same game, Bacarri Rambo, who also intercepted a pass in the contest, decided to follow up Ogletree's play with a vicious slam of his own that got the crowd and the Georgia sideline fired up.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (Capital One Bowl)
Game Clock: 11:49 left in 1st quarter
Down and Distance: 4th-and-8 from Nebraska 25
Current Score: Game Tied 0-0
On the play, Shawn Williams broke through the right side of the Nebraska line virtually untouched and batted the ball down. With nobody on his tail, Justin Scott-Wesley slid into the end zone to recover the ball, only to have it be batted around by three or four Georgia players before rolling out of the back of the end zone.
Although the recovery was quite messy, the execution of the block was perfect and Shawn Williams came up big with another play. This put the first score of the game on the board (making it two years running where the Dawgs' bowl game began with a safety) and began the game on a positive note for the Bulldogs.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Game Clock: 9:15 left in 1st quarter
Down and Distance: 1st-and-10 from Georgia 20
Current Score: Georgia leads 7-0
Georgia Tech's Robert Godhigh took the pitch on this option play and seemed to be making his way deep into Georgia territory. He was met by Rambo and a host of other Bulldog players who struggled to bring him down. Just when it appeared that Godhigh would either go down at the two or somehow make his way in for a touchdown, Rambo emerged from the pile with the football and returned it to midfield.
This turnover killed Georgia Tech's momentum from a great drive down the field that they, ultimately, never truly recovered from. The Dawgs continued to run away with this game, eventually winning decisively by a score of 42-10.
Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC Championship Game)
Game Clock: 6:47 left in 2nd quarter
Down and Distance: 3rd-and-Goal from Georgia 5
Current Score: Georgia leads 7-0
On the play, Alabama attempted o cap off their drive down the field with their first score of the game. AJ McCarron took the snap and made a back-shoulder throw to freshman receiver Amari Cooper, who seemed to be confused on the route. Sander Commings stepped in front of Cooper and made the interception to deny Alabama any points in the red-zone.
Commings made a few big plays in this game but, defensively, none were bigger than this momentum-killer that alternately could have left the game locked at 7-7. Thanks to Commings' vision, the Dawgs were able to continue on with a touchdown lead.
Game Clock: 13:57 left in 4th quarter
Down and Distance: 4th-and-11 from Missouri 35
Current Score: Georgia leads 24-20
Running out of time and realizing the momentum was not in their favor, Missouri opted on this punt attempt to fake in an attempt rush for the first down. Richard Samuel fought off the lead block and brought the runner down after only a two-yard gain.
This turnover-on-downs stifled Missouri's comeback attempt and led to a Marshall Morgan field goal for Georgia. The Dawgs were not out of the woods yet, but they were certainly on the right path.
Game Clock: 7:47 left in 4th quarter
Down and Distance: 1st-and-10 from Missouri 19
Current Score: Georgia leads 27-20
Jarvis Jones made his first (and only) collegiate interception on this play and it could not have come at a better time.
With opportunity slipping through Missouri's fingers, they began to mount a final comeback drive after the previous turnover-on-down.
James Franklin dropped back to pass and apparently doesn't see Jarvis Jones hanging in the middle of the field. Franklin released the ball and Jones reacted, leaping into the air and coming down with the football. He then proceeded to sprint and dive for the end zone (I still believe he got in), setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley to put the Bulldogs in the driver seat for the remainder of the game.
Game Clock: 3:59 left in 4th quarter
Down and Distance: Kickoff
Current Score: Georgia leads 29-24
This game should have never been this close. With not much time remaining, Kentucky answered a late Georgia touchdown with one of their own, to bring the game within five.
On the play, the Kentucky kicker tapped the football and ran alongside it as it struggles to reach the necessary ten yards. He held at the 45-yard line waiting for the ball and, right as he seemingly recovered it, Connor Norman (one of the best special teams players the Dawgs have) dove in to prevents Kentucky's rally attempt.
This play held the Wildcats in check near the end and Norman's hustle may have saved the game (and ultimately, the season) for the Dawgs.
Game Clock: 1:30 left in 4th quarter
Down and Distance: 1st-and-15 on Georgia 32
Current Score: Georgia leads 51-44
You have to give it to Tennessee; they certainly know how to score points. Luckily for the Bulldogs, so does Aaron Murray and the Dawg offense.
Late in the fourth quarter, Georgia led by a score, but the Vols were driving the length of the field.
On the play, Tyler Bray dropped back to pass and quickly found himself under pressure. He scrambled forward in the pocket, attempting to dodge defenders when Jordan Jenkins flew in to jar the ball loose. The football bounced forward three yards and was smothered by John Jenkins at the 32-yard line.
The play halted this see-saw battle of a game and led to a victory for the Dawgs, their third in a row against the Volunteers.
Game Clock: :16 left in 2nd quarter
Down and Distance: 2nd-and-Goal from Georgia 5
Current Score: Georgia leads 7-6
You can pencil it in every year as one of the biggest rivalry games on the docket and the 2012 iteration of Florida vs. Georgia did not disappoint.
With the seconds dwindling before halftime, Florida was hoping to put up a score to head into the locker room on top.
Jeff Driskel took the shotgun snap and was almost immediately under heavy pressure from Jordan Jenkins. Flushed out of the pocket and pursued by John Jenkins and All-American Jarvis Jones, Driskel scrambled to the sideline and threw a bullet toward the end zone where three Gator receivers were waiting. Rambo cut off the pass in front of the intended receiver and came away with the football, returning it out to the Georgia 10-yard line.
This play definitely swung the momentum back in Georgia's favor to go into halftime. If Rambo didn't jump this play, the ball would have almost assuredly been caught by a Gator for a touchdown and the Bulldogs would have headed into the locker room down by at least five.
Rambo ensured that Georgia did not have to play from behind heading into the second half of this defensive slug fest.
Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC Championship Game)
Game Clock: 6:42 left in 3rd quarter
Down and Distance: 4th-and-7 from Georgia 32
Current Score: Georgia leads 14-10
In what will go down as one of the greatest SEC Championships ever played, this may have been the most exciting play.
With their distance kicker in, Alabama attempted a 49-yard field goal to bring the game within one. On the snap, Cornelius Washington rushed in off the right side and got a hand up to block the football. The ball bounced once behind the kicker and was picked up in stride by Alec Ogletree and returned the 55 yards for a touchdown.
Had the Bulldogs won this game, this would have been the play that made it possible. Georgia jumped up to an early lead, but Alabama was nipping at their heels all the way until the fourth quarter when they finally took the lead for the first time.
There were a lot of things the Bulldogs have to be proud of from their 2012 campaign and their performance in the SEC Championship has to be near the top of the highlight reel.
Game Clock: 2:15 left in 4th quarter
Down and Distance: 2nd-and-6 from Georgia 19
Current Score: Georgia leads 29-24
There was no question in my mind what play deserved number one: it came at the hands of Jarvis Jones against the biggest rival of them all.
With time getting pretty scarce, Florida tight end Jordan Reed ran a button-hook route and made the catch. He proceeded to head down field and it is evident that he could smell paydirt. When he leaped into the air at the 5-yard line, Jarvis Jones punched the ball out of Reed's hands and into the end zone where Sanders Commings bottled it up for a touchback.
Many arguments can be made on this play as to what the outcome would have otherwise been. If Reed didn't lose the football, my thought is that he would have used that big body to reach the end zone.
Then, of course, there is always the question of the necessary two-point conversion to tie the game. Anything goes late in a tied ballgame.
No matter how you look at it though, Jarvis Jones squandered Florida's hopes and boosted those of the Bulldog Nation on the biggest play in what ended up being the second biggest game of the season.
Without this play, the Bulldogs would have possibly been on the outside looking in at the SEC Championship Game.