Tyrique McGhee was well-prepared for Tennessee’s first play from scrimmage.
The sophomore cornerback from Peach County started running toward receiver Josh Smith, who was breaking toward the sideline, before quarterback Quinten Dormady had even released the football from his hand.
It was a combination of film study and instincts that caused McGhee to react so suddenly. As the ball neared Smith, McGhee left his feet and dove in front of the Smith to record his first career interception. That first-play pick set an early tone for Georgia in what turned out to be a 41-0 rout over Tennessee.
“It was awesome to give my team the jump-start,” McGhee said. “That’s what every guy dreams of and thinks they’re going to do coming in. It was awesome to make it happen. After that, you have to get to the next play.”
For McGhee, the Tennessee game was his second career start as he also earned the nod against Samford in the third week of the season. McGhee has been manning the left cornerback position while Malkom Parrish has worked his way back from a broken foot. Parrish played against Tennessee, his second game back, but in a reserve role.
McGhee’s interception led to an early field goal for Georgia. And as it pertained to the Tennessee passing game, the pick didn’t deter Dormady from testing McGhee throughout the rest of the game.
Time and again, Dormady threw at McGhee’s side of the field. Time and again, McGhee prevented a pass from being completed. McGhee finished with a game-high four pass deflections.
On one occasion, Tennessee receiver Marquez Callaway, a former Warner Robins standout, got a step on McGhee, who was able to recover as the ball got to his man. At the last second McGhee was able to knock the ball out of Callaway’s hands. On another, McGhee swatted the ball away from Smith, who was trying to high point the ball in man coverage.
Needless to say, head coach Kirby Smart was pleased with McGhee’s performance.
“He almost did it quietly. I’d forgotten about the first pick; it happened so early,” Smart said. “Then he made a great play down the field on a fade ball, stop and go. He made a couple of great plays on third down. He works hard now. I tell y’all every day, he’s a kid who works hard and has gotten better this year.”
McGhee appeared to be targeted more often than Georgia’s other corners, possibly due to his youth on the outside.
But that wasn’t anything that bothered McGhee. If anything, he likes it when opposing quarterbacks throw his way.
“You love the action,” McGhee said. “It’s no disrespect. They got a game plan just like we do. Make a play when your chances come.”
McGhee also showed his tenacity in the run game. On one play in particular in the third quarter, Georgia set the edge on Tennessee and prevented running back John Kelly from bouncing outside. As defensive linemen David Marshall and Julian Rochester closed in on Kelly, there was McGhee, right behind them helping to clean up the play.
McGhee said Georgia’s defensive identity is all about pursuing the ball, wherever it may be.
“I think we’re a group of guys who are relentless and are going to get after the ball,” McGhee said. “The ball, the ball, the ball – that’s what we say. I know the statement we made is we’re going come in relentless and go after the ball.”