It’s easy to see the influence Middle Georgia players are having on the Georgia defense this season.
There are four defenders playing integral roles on a defense that has been regarded as one of the best in the nation. The Bulldogs rank third in both scoring defense (11.9 points per game) and total defense (252.1 yards per game).
Junior Roquan Smith, a Montezuma native who attended Macon County, has asserted himself as one of the top linebackers in the country. Smith is a semifinalist for both the Bednarik Award (most outstanding defender) and the Butkus Award (best linebacker).
For the season, Smith leads Georgia with 61 total tackles and also has a sack and a forced fumble.
Sophomore defensive lineman David Marshall, who attended Upson-Lee, has 10 tackles in a key rotational role. Sophomore defensive back Tyrique McGhee, who competed at Peach County, has played a lot while totaling 17 tackles, one interception and five pass breakups.
Freshman defensive lineman Malik Herring has earned rotational time and has six tackles and a quarterback hurry.
The Middle Georgia standouts have taken a workmanlike approach to the season while doing their best to avoid the hype surrounding the program’s No. 1 overall ranking.
While Georgia blew out Florida 42-7 last week, McGhee said there were plenty of mistakes to overcome, particularly when it came to tackling. After all, 70 of Florida running back Lamical Perine’s 93 rushing yards came in the second quarter, which is something Smart, the staf, and the defensive unit would all like to see fixed.
“When a coach emphasizes something to his players, players are going to want to hone in on that,” McGhee said. “We didn’t do a good job being as physical as a defense. So this week we worked on being as physical as a defense as we can be.”
Smart has previously lauded Peach County as having some of the toughest and most physical practices he has ever seen in person. That has helped McGhee prepare for Smart’s physical practices at Georgia.
And by doing so, the fact that Georgia has blown out seven of its eight opponents hasn’t been something to affect someone like McGhee to where he would assume that’s a normal thing. McGhee said each week, the entire team is expecting a close game. If a blowout happens, it just happens.
“It starts with the preparation,” McGhee said. “We come in and expect a four-quarter game, no matter the outcome. When you happen to be up by a great margin, it’s not what you expect.”
Said Smart: “We don’t go out there in practice and get a big 28-point lead or anything and shut it down. We go at each other and try to create a culture of toughness and playing hard. We really didn’t play that way defensively against Florida. There are clips all over the field where guys are turning down contact, not wanting to hit people. We showed it to our players. We have to correct that in practice and the young players were part of that.”
While Georgia’s defense has a talented trio of Middle Georgia players, the offense obviously features quarterback Jake Fromm, who tore up area opponents at Houston County. Next year, it will add Peach County receiver Kearis Jackson, too.
But as for the defense, it is obvious the Middle Georgia connection has loomed large. Marshall said it is all about translating the work put in during the week to Saturdays.
“You just have to keep working on it practice and bring it to the games,”Marshall said.