Whenever a team loses a quarterback that is drafted first overall in the NFL Draft, expectations usually are not as high the next year for that team’s offensive outlook. However, D.J. Uiagalelei seems more than ready to take the keys over for Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, making this fall camp period for Georgia’s defense that much more important.
Uiagalelei stands 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, and started two games last year while Lawrence missed time with COVID-19. Uiagalelei shined in his two starts while throwing for 914 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions over the course of last season as a true freshman. Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning spoke on what makes Uiagalelei unique as a quarterback.
“Obviously, D.J.’s got great size, and that’s what sticks out to you,” said Lanning in a virtual press conference on Tuesday. “When you put a body on him, you’re going to have to be great at wrapping up and finishing the tackle. I think he stands big in the pocket. He creates some issues with his athleticism and his ability to run. He’s a guy who’s always falling forward when he does. He’s got a strong arm, can push the ball down the field, so certainly, a great quarterback to go up against early.”
With Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross being cleared to play last week, Georgia’s defense cannot allow Uiagalelei to get comfortable in the pocket with all of the weapons that the Tigers have. Creating pressure from the front seven will be essential for the Bulldogs if they are to be successful come week one in Charlotte.
The loss of Azeez Ojulari hurts the pass rush, but Georgia basically returns every other key contributor on the front seven led by senior defensive tackle Jordan Davis. Lanning mentioned a few names that could be key to forcing pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season.
“I know we know Adam Anderson’s skill set and his ability to rush the passer,” said Lanning. “I think it’s going to create some opportunities for guys like Nolan Smith, Robert Beal, that have been sharing some of those reps in the past. Then Travon Walker, I expect really big things to show up with him and I’m excited about some of the young guys that kind of come into the fold.”
Georgia’s pass rush can then help an inexperienced secondary in their transition to actual games. Lanning said both defensive back transfers Derion Kendrick and Tykee Smith are “not coming in unpolished.” While that may be true, facing a quarterback of Uiagalelei’s stature and talent level will not be easy.
If the Bulldogs’ defense can find success early by shutting down Clemson’s passing game or forcing turnovers, it could pay dividends for the rest of the season. What makes the initial test against Clemson so exciting is that the Tigers should be far and away the best team Georgia plays in the regular season. In addition, how UGA fares against Uiagalelei, the best quarterback this team will see all year, will give fans a premium viewing of what this group may have in store for the rest of the season.
For Lanning’s full presser click below: