ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Nakobe Dean believes Georgia's proud defense got the message in its humbling SEC championship game loss to Alabama.
The wake-up call was received.
Now Dean and other team leaders are working to make sure No. 3 Georgia takes advantage of those painful lessons in the Dec. 31 College Football Playoff semifinal in the Orange Bowl against No. 2 Michigan.
“We have had discussions on the team about how we are going to build off the game and the type of impact it had on us,” Dean, Georgia's inside linebacker, said Wednesday. “We look forward to it having nothing but a positive effect.”
Dean said Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis has said “'the smelling salts kind of woke us up a little bit'" in the 41-24 loss to Alabama on Dec. 24 in Atlanta.
Added Dean: "Basically I feel like it lit a fire under us to make us work harder.”
The Bulldogs faced no serious tests in their 12-0 regular season. They were the unanimous No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 for more than half the season. Defense deserved much of the credit. Georgia led the nation in scoring defense and total defense.
That's why the lopsided loss to Alabama was so unexpected.
Clearly, the defense didn’t play like a top-ranked unit with the Southeastern Conference championship on the line. Georgia’s national championship hopes may rest on the unit reclaiming its swagger.
“Losing that game gave us a wake-up call to know that we’re not invincible,” said safety Lewis Cine, who is tied with Dean for the team lead with 61 tackles.
“We have a good defense, we have a great team, but we can lose if we’re not in our top shape, if we’re not ready.”
Cine said there were mistakes on the field and on the sideline.
“I’m going to look in the mirror and say we did a whole lot of things wrong, player wise, whatever it may be, coaching wise, we did a whole lot of things wrong that didn’t go well for us,” Cine said. “There were a whole lot of busts on our part, there were a lot of missed calls on our part and clearly Alabama took advantage of it and it showed.”
Cine said in the return to practice, players are “really on their toes to soak everything in and really do things the right way moving forward.”
After not allowing more than 17 points in an regular season game, the Bulldogs were embarrassed in the loss to Alabama.
The defense still leads the nation with its average of 9.5 points per game. After giving up 536 yards to the Crimson Tide, Georgia dropped to second in total defense, allowing 255.4 per game.
There have been individual rewards for the defense's strong season.
Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning has been named Oregon's coach. Lanning will remain with the team during the playoff. Coach Kirby Smart has named assistants is Will Muschamp and Glenn Schumann as co-defensive coordinators after Lanning.
Meanwhile, Davis has won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman and Bednarik Award as the top defensive player. Dean won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker.
If Georgia's defense can win atonement, a possible reward could be a rematch with Alabama for the national championship.
“I’ve got faith in this team,” Dean said. “I love my brothers on this team. I know what we can do and I know the type of game that we played that day, we were just outplayed. We weren’t making plays. It was not characteristic of us. Not at all.”
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