Georgia’s defense has been plagued by injuries this season and it has shown that missing the leadership of veteran players like Richard LeCounte, Julian Rochester and Jordan Davis can take a toll.
On Saturday night against South Carolina, a few younger pups took advantage of the spotlight and excelled when given the chance. One of those players was freshman defensive lineman Jalen Carter, who finished the contest with three tackles, including one for a loss.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was impressed with Carter’s performance and said that the Apopka, Florida native continues to improve.
“Yeah, he’s gotten better and better. He was already playing, he’s played in I think every game this year,” Smart said on Saturday night. “So he’s grown up a lot faster than some of the other guys. He’s very talented. He continues to work hard and get better. The sky’s the limit, but he’s got to work really hard to realize his potential. But he did make some knock-back plays. And we’ve got to be more disruptive with guys like him.”
The attrition that Georgia’s defensive line suffered was hard to watch against Florida as they could barely get into the backfield after Florida quarterback Kyle Trask. Guys like Rochester and Davis are simply irreplaceable, but that “next man up” mentality took its course. Since then, underclassmen like Carter, Bill Norton and Zion Logue have stepped up to make an impact.
“We played a lot of guys on the defensive line who didn’t have a real good series there,” Smart said. “We subbed out, put some threes in, and didn’t play really well that last drive they scored on. But that’s the way you learn. I’ve been around it for years, at places where you get a lead, put them in, and you find out a lot about kids. You find out, hey, he might still be a year away, but getting that experience under his belt is invaluable.”
In the secondary, the absence of LeCounte is big because he’s basically the quarterback of the defense. He makes the reads and forces adjustments by telling other players where to position themselves, depending on what the opposing offense throws at them. Missing a player that not only is a team leader but makes those important decisions, is a gigantic loss for a program.
Although, LeCounte may be able to return this season, according to Smart.
“There is a chance that Richard can get back,” Smart said Monday. “I don’t know how realistic it is for this week but he’s doing more. He’s running now and he’s with us. He’s back into things. There is a chance that he can get out there and play by this week and I’m hopeful that Jordan (Davis) can as well.”
Sophomore safety Lewis Cine has stepped up in a huge way in the past few weeks. He racked up 12 solo tackles against the Gamecocks on Saturday, which is an impressive feat. Cine was a reason why Georgia only limited South Carolina’s rushing attack to just 83 yards.
The Trinity Christian (TX) product said that the defense was fully prepared for what they would face against the Gamecocks.
“We knew what they were going to do from watching film on them,” he said. “What they do is run, and their backs are really good. The goal was to stop them and try and make them one-dimensional. We did what we were supposed to do.”
Cine isn’t a player who really is scared of contact, especially after the collision that occurred between Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and himself.
“I’m not going to shy away from the run,” he said. “I wanted to make contact and make my presence felt. The coaches put me in a place where they trusted me to be in the action, and knew I’d come up big.”
Cine of course remembers the loss to an unranked South Carolina team at home last year, which ultimately was the catalyst for why Georgia didn’t receive a College Football Playoff bid.
When asked about the blowout win that had just taken place, Cine smiled and didn’t shy away from the question.
“It felt great,” Cine said. “It felt awesome. We got redemption.”
Here is the video from Cine’s postgame press conference: