Redemption time for Georgia's defense

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's been an exceedingly long season for Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.

Bring up his name to just about anybody in the Bulldog Nation and cover your ears.

Who could blame Martinez then if he was a little bummed about seeing the final seconds tick off the clock Thursday in Georgia's 24-12 victory over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl?

This had to be a performance he wanted to savor.

His Georgia defense was masterful, capping a season in which the Bulldogs' D was anything but.

Time and time again, Georgia's defense saved the offense in the first half. Michigan State ran 26 plays in Georgia territory in the first half, but managed just two field goals. And twice in the first quarter, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on their side of the 50, but Georgia's defense kept the Spartans out of the end zone both times.

Michigan State star tailback Javon Ringer never got going against the Bulldogs and was held to 47 yards on 20 carries. The Spartans finished with just 236 yards of total offense and were 4 of 16 on third down.

Georgia sacked Michigan State quarterbacks six times, and that's after collecting an SEC-low 18 sacks in 12 regular-season games.

Frankly, Georgia's defense played so well that you almost had to rub your eyes and wonder if this was the same bunch of guys on the field that were shredded at times this season.

Not that Martinez or anybody at Georgia needs to be reminded, but the Bulldogs allowed 38 or more points in four of their last five games of the regular season. They were torched for 409 rushing yards by Georgia Tech in the finale at home.

It wasn't pretty with regard to the defense the last month in Athens, and that's putting it mildly.

But the time off allowed the Bulldogs to get a little healthier on that side of the ball, to gather themselves emotionally and ultimately produce one of their best defensive showings of the season.

It's the sixth time in eight years at Georgia that Mark Richt has won 10 or more games, at least a small consolation for a team that started the season ranked No. 1 in the country.

Now the waiting begins.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who looked like an NFL quarterback in the second half after a slow start, is pondering his football future. He would be one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the draft if he decides to come out. Tailback Knowshon Moreno will also decide whether or not to turn pro.

As important as getting a win was Thursday for the Bulldogs, these next few days might be even more important. The deadline for underclassmen to declare is Jan. 15.