How much fun did fifth-ranked Georgia linebacker Jonathan Ledbetter and the Bulldogs defense have against Georgia Tech?
“Last year was the first year that (the UGA scout team) came out and ran their offense, really, better than Tech,” the senior said. “I had fun. Last year, we had fun, but this year I just kind of took over, and I made it a mission to be successful.”
Ledbetter’s statement about the Georgia scout team might just apply to this year’s edition of Georgia-Georgia Tech, too, if the Bulldogs defense proved anything with their performance Saturday. It really did look almost too easy for the Bulldogs defense against the nation’s leading rushing offense.
The Yellow Jackets’ vaunted triple-option attack, easily the leading topic of discussion heading into the contest, couldn’t get much going Saturday. Georgia Tech finished with 128 rushing yards — 99 in the game’s first three quarters, before the majority of the Bulldogs’ starters were pulled.
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Ledbetter himself closed out his career at Sanford Stadium with a nine-tackle (five solo) performance, while D’Andre Walker finished second on the team with five. Georgia’s nine tackles for loss were the most all season.
“I mean, I wanted to keep playing (in the second half), my coach wasn’t really allowing a lot of that and that’s fine,” Ledbetter said. “We’ve got guys out there just hungry. Just chasing everything down, that’s what you do against this type of offense.”
So, about that triple option.
Trailing 21-7, Georgia Tech moved the ball near midfield with the opportunity to close within one score. Then this happened:
Second-and-7: TaQuon Marshall runs for a three-yard loss. Ledbetter on the tackle.
Third-and-10: Marshall runs for four yards. Malik Herring on the tackle.
Fourth-and-six: Marshall sacked by Jordan Davis for a four-yard loss. Ledbetter, along with about five other defenders, mob Davis as they run off the field.
“I was expecting more, but our scout team ran it better than them,” said Bulldogs linebacker D’Andre Walker. “I feel like, (shoot), practice was harder than today. ... It doesn’t even matter about stopping the offense, it was about making the play on your senior day. This is your last celebration, so you better live it up.”
The Bulldogs defense definitely lived it up, at least until the last 15 minutes. Yellow Jackets quarterback TaQuon Marshall didn’t complete a pass until the fourth quarter, and Georgia Tech’s two offensive scores came once the result was well in hand.
Walker wasn’t the only one who shared that sentiment.
Bulldogs defensive tackle Malik Herring said he got cut-blocked “every day in practice,” and said the scout team was the reason the Bulldogs defense enjoyed such a strong performance. Kirby Smart alluded to the reserves, too, and mentioned several players by name in his opening press-conference statement.
“You just have to be selfless,” Smart said. “They go out every day now, and they’re going and cutting starters. Think about that. You’re being asked to throw your body at a guy that’s starting. Throw your body at his knees.”
Smart said that defensively, the carryover from Georgia Tech to the Bulldogs’ SEC Championship opponent, No. 1 Alabama, is still minimal. He’s right — the Crimson Tide run very few plays with any real semblance to Georgia Tech’s triple option.
Still, holding the Yellow Jackets to 2.8 yards per rushing attempt provides a strong positive for a Georgia defense ranked 27th in the country in rushing defense. The blowout victory over its heated rival is just an added bonus.
“We were all having fun,” said Herring. “That’s all we want to do: have fun playing football.”