ATHENS — Georgia’s defense last season left its mark in the school’s record books.
The 2008 unit is listed on page 127 of this season’s media guide with the undesired top spot: Most points allowed — season.
The ugly record was 319 points allowed. The 2008 team was one of the few in school history to play as many as 13 games, but that is small comfort.
"We feel we need to have a bit of redemption," said junior linebacker Rennie Curran. "We’re a real focused team right now. We feel like we’re on a mission."
Georgia finished 10-3 in 2008 and gave up more than 40 points in each of the three losses.
The defensive breakdowns were especially shocking when placed in historical perspective. Before last season, Georgia gave up more than 40 points in only one game — a 51-33 loss to Tennessee in 2006 — in Mark Richt’s first seven years as the Bulldogs coach.
No Georgia team had allowed 40 or more points in three games since 1994.
Georgia gave up an average of 24.5 points per game, below the record-high 26.6 in 1990. Even the 1990 team, which finished only 4-7, allowed as many as 40 points in only one game.
The 2009 unit is determined to make up for last year’s breakdowns.
There are six starters back, not including defensive tackle Jeff Owens, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the 2008 opener.
Owens, Geno Atkins and Kade Weston give Georgia three senior defensive tackles. There is experience through the middle of the defense, with Curran and Akeem Dent at linebacker and Bryan Evans and Reshad Jones at safety. Cornerback Prince Miller is another returning starter.
"The best way for me to describe the defense is we’re a family," Curran said.
"I see my big D linemen, all the guys who have been with me before through the wars. I look to my left, look to my right, look behind me, they’re all there."
Curran, a junior entering his third season as a starting linebacker, ranked among the Southeastern Conference leaders with 115 tackles last season. That was both good and bad: Curran is productive, but he kept making so many tackles because the defense stayed on the field so long.
The defense finished the season with a 24-12 win over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, providing momentum — and attitude — for this season.
"I really think the defense really has a chip on its shoulder," said receiver A.J. Green.
"Everybody was hungry to get back in pads and show what we can do," Curran said. "We all feel like we have something to prove."
Curran said last year’s defense did not play up to standards he said are expected of "Junkyard Dawgs."
"There were times when we showed greatness, but it wasn’t consistent," he said. "That was the main thing. If you want to play like a Georgia defense, like ‘Junkyard Dawgs,’ you’ve got to be consistent. You’ve got to be able to perform even when your back is against the wall, when you are in a bad situation or if the offense throws an interception. You’ve got to be able to make plays and make turnovers, and I don’t feel like we did that consistently."
An obvious weakness last season was a pass rush which produced only 24 sacks. No player had more than three.
Defensive end Rod Battle, who missed three games in 2008 with a neck injury, was credited with 3.5 sacks in Georgia’s first scrimmage last week.
Justin Houston had three sacks in Georgia’s G-Day spring game, but he is suspended for the first two games.
Senior Marcus Washington, listed as Dent’s backup at middle linebacker, has been working at defensive end in preseason practice and could join Battle, Demarcus Dobbs in a rotation in the Bulldogs’ Sept. 5 opener at Oklahoma State.
Owens said the wealth of experience will make this defense better.
"We’ve been here, we’ve played in the big games, we know what it feels like to win," Owens said. "We have guys who are dependable back and guys who know the defense from end to end. That goes a long way."