ATHENS, Ga. -- From a pure statistical standpoint, No. 14 Georgia ranks near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in defense. Coach Jim Donnan could care less about the numbers.
"Our defense is playing as good as anyone in the league right now," Donnan said Tuesday.
The Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2 SEC) head into Saturday's game against Auburn (4-5, 1-5) with the 10th-ranked defense in the 12-team league, having allowed an average of 358 yards per game.
No SEC team has surrendered more passing yards than Georgia's average of 273.5, and just three schools have given up more points than the Dawgs (22.4 per game).
But Donnan has seen the defense slowly develop into the kind of aggressive unit he wanted when Kevin Ramsey was hired as coordinator prior to the season. The Bulldogs have forced 18 interceptions and recovered seven fumbles, leading the SEC with a turnover ratio of plus-nine.
"It's taken some time, kind of like it did for the offense when I first got here," Donnan said, remembering the struggles during his rookie season at Georgia in 1996. "Now, they're aware of what we're trying to do in the system and they're feeding off each other."
In particular, the Bulldogs have tightened up their zone coverages and the interior of the line -- tackles Marcus Stroud and Richard Seymour, along with middle linebacker Kendrell Bell -- is a major reason Georgia has given up only 84.5 yards per game on the ground, ranking eighth nationally.
"We're feeling real confident about ourselves," Seymour said. "We're just a step away from being great. We're still making a lot of mistakes. If we correct those mistakes, you never know how good we can be."
The Bulldogs are wondering just how good Bell can be. The junior college transfer, who has started the last three games, ranks fifth on the team with 42 tackles and also has three interceptions, two blocked punts and one blocked field goal.
Already, Donnan believes his middle linebacker deserves consideration for All-SEC honors.
"Can we get him on the list?" Donnan asked, looking around the room for sports information director Claude Felton. "I think he's got a chance to make it."
After a week off, the Bulldogs insist they are fully recovered from the 30-14 loss to fourth-ranked Florida, which essentially relegated Georgia to another third-place finish in the SEC East.
"It was a tough loss, but I felt that all through last week we kind of worked our way out of it," Donnan said. "There's still a lot on the table for us."
The players are aware of that, too. Georgia still has the possibility of a 9-2 season and New Year's Day bowl, although the schedule after Saturday's final home game is difficult.
The Bulldogs finish up with road trips to No. 18 Mississippi (7-2) and No. 13 Georgia Tech (6-2).
"It would be good for us to get a win under our belt against Auburn," quarterback Quincy Carter said. "We need some momentum going down the stretch."
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