All season, defense has carried Georgia. Despite the Bulldogs' stunning Week 7 loss to South Carolina, defense wasn't to blame. The unit played well enough to win.
Saturday, in a commanding 24-17 victory over rival Florida, that defense ensured Georgia has a straightforward path to winning the SEC and reaching the College Football Playoff.
Despite what the final score suggests, UGA controlled the game. The defense's tremendous effort started right away.
On the Gators' opening possession, a 2nd-and-1 run went nowhere. After a false start and five-yard gain, Kyle Trask tried to hit Kyle Pitts on an out-breaking route. Georgia safety Richard LeCounte broke up the pass, forcing a turnover on downs.
That fourth-down deflection started the Dawgs on the right note, and they continued to play that outstanding tune. Florida didn't convert a third- or fourth-down attempt until the fourth quarter, missing on each of its first seven tries.
Trask also provided a bit of help. He took two awful sacks, trying to scramble and create time but instead losing 29 yards. Florida faced a 3rd-and-25 and 2nd-and-34 on those drives, effectively ending the possibility of a conversion.
But that's what pressure does.
Georgia isn't an overwhelming unit up front; the team entered Saturday ranked 54th nationally with 2.3 sacks per game and 80th with 5.6 tackles for loss. And the Bulldogs only recorded two and four, respectively, against UF.
Still, they controlled the line of scrimmage. Florida gained just 50 yards on 17 non-sack rushing attempts, and the offense trudged to just 120 total yards on its first five possessions, excluding the kneel-down heading into halftime.
That defensive dominance allowed the Dawgs to carry a 16-3 edge into the fourth quarter. True, they weren't flawless in the frame. Van Jefferson caught a touchdown, and then UF converted a quartet of third or fourth downs to before trimming UGA's lead to 24-17.
Championship teams don't rely solely on one unit, though. The defense bought time for Jake Fromm and the offense.
The junior quarterback recovered from a frustrating two-game stretch in superb fashion. After throwing three interceptions in the South Carolina loss and mustering only 35 yards passing during the rain-soaked win against Kentucky, Fromm thrived in Jacksonville.
Largely thanks to his arm, Georgia converted 12 of its 18 third-down attempts. Fromm went 10-of-13 for 119 yards on the money down, moving the chains eight times and throwing one score.
The team's 12th and final conversion iced the victory.
Fromm ended the contest 20-of-30 for 279 yards with two scores and zero interceptions. His favorite target was Miami transfer Lawrence Cager, who caught one touchdown and racked up career-high marks of seven catches and 132 yards.
Most importantly for Georgia, it's now the front-runner in the SEC East. Every other divisional foe has at least two conference losses, and two-loss Missouri is up next. Kirby Smart's squad can nearly wrap up the East crown with a victory in Week 11.
Yes, that's merely the first step.
The CFP is the goal, yet the November slate isn't easy. After hosting Missouri, UGA heads to Auburn, hosts Texas A&M and travels to Georgia Tech. Fromm has often struggled against top competition, but this is a promising step in the right direction. Plus, the Dawgs will be favored in each matchup.
Should they continue winning, a trip to the Dec. 7 SEC Championship Game will follow. No matter whether Alabama or LSU awaits, a CFP berth will be at stake.
And if the defense that showed up Saturday in Jacksonville also appears in Atlanta, the Bulldogs will have a tremendous chance at guaranteeing themselves a spot in the College Football Playoff.