There was a play during the first quarter of Georgia’s win over Notre Dame on Saturday that exemplified the season senior defensive lineman John Atkins has had for the Bulldogs.
On second-and-9 from Notre Dame’s 14-yard line, Fighting Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush took the snap on a run-pass option play. He read Georgia’s defense and decided to throw.
Lined up in front of the left guard, Atkins ran a stunt at the snap and blew past two blocks. Before Wimbush had time to react, Atkins was in the quarterback’s face. But he was pushed in the side, allowing Wimbush to avoid the sack until linebacker Roquan Smith brought Wimbush down. Smith received credit for the sack. On the stat sheet, Atkins’ role in the play was non-existent.
“I thought I was going to have at least a half (sack),” Atkins said. “Looking back at it, I wasn't on it. I tried to go for the ball. I was almost there.”
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While Atkins had disrupted the play, he didn’t receive tangible credit.
That’s how life tends to be for Atkins as one of Georgia’s interior defensive linemen. He is asked to plug holes and take on multiple blockers, which allows Smith and linebacker Natrez Patrick to easily make tackles. It’s an overlooked position, but Atkins embraces it.
“I love it,” Atkins said. “Not everybody can do it. Somebody has got to do it.”
Atkins has just six tackles through two games, but he is an integral part of a Georgia defense that has allowed 29 total points this season. Before Georgia’s win over the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly singled out Atkins as a player to watch.
For Atkins, who is on pace to shatter his season high in tackles (22), having to do the dirty work on Georgia’s defense comes naturally.
“I'm the youngest of five,” Atkins said. “I always had to take out the trash. I was the only guy in the house, so I had to do all the dirty work there, too.”
While Atkins would like to have more tackles next to his name on the stat sheet, he realizes that’s not his job on Georgia’s defense. Without Atkins and the other interior defensive linemen plugging holes, the Bulldogs’ defense wouldn’t be able to operate quite the same.
“He cleans a lot of things up for me. He makes my job easier,” Patrick said. “I personally couldn't do what them guys do.”