Georgia football-defense-elite
Georgia defensive back Christopher Smith (29) during the Duke’s Mayo Classic against Clemson at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC., on Saturday Sept. 4, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Tony Walsh

The Georgia defense has a simple motto: ‘You’re either elite or you’re not’

ATHENS, GA — The two biggest plays made by the Georgia secondary on Saturday both came from senior defensive backs.

Chris Smith scored the game’s only touchdown when he intercepted quarterback DJ Uiagalelei and returned it for a 74-yard touchdown. The second came on Clemson’s lone scoring drive when Uiagalelei tried to thread a pass into the endzone.

Fortunately for Georgia, senior Latavious Brini was there to break up the pass. The Tigers would then go on to settle for a field goal after targeting Brini on the next play, only for the ball to sail out of the back of the endzone.

That specific play wasn’t elite in Brini’s eyes, but the defensive performance as a whole certainly was. The Bulldogs held Clemson to 180 yards and just three points. It was the worst offensive output of Dabo Swinney’s tenure with the Tigers.

The Georgia pass rush drew obvious praise, as Uiagalelei was dropped sacked seven times by the Bulldogs. Brini mentioned he was going to have to take the front seven out to eat afterward.

Of the six players who sacked Uiagalelei, five of them were former 5-star recruits. Neither Brini or Smith were classified as that as recruits. Brini was a 3-star signee in the 2017 class, with Smith being rated as a 4-star signee in the 2018 class.

Related: Game Ball: Georgia safety Christopher Smith interception keys 10-3 win over Clemson

Both players waited their turns before finally beginning to emerge during the 2020 season. Injuries to Richard LeCounte and Mark Webb allowed both of them to see the field last season.

When speaking with reporters on Monday, Brini said that past experience was critical in helping slow the game down for him.

“We put in countless, countless hours of working through plays and disguises so we could execute the game plan to the best of our abilities,” Smith said on Saturday. “That’s what ultimately paid off in the end.”

Smart praised both Smith and Brini on Monday, but not just for how they played against the No. 3 Tigers.

He credited the two seniors for how they represent the Georgia program.

But the top-end talent has some much-needed experience with Smith and Brini. The latter has now started two games for Georgia, both coming against top-10 teams in Cincinnati and Clemson.

The Georgia defense gave up a combined 24 points in those two games.

If the Bulldogs are going to continue to play at an elite level on the defensive side of the ball, it’s going to need guys like Brini and Smith to continue to make plays.

And it’s something Brini thinks about a lot, now that he’s emerged as an every-down player for a talented Georgia defense.

“You wake up having a nightmare about it,” Brini said. “You make a play, and you’re elite. If you don’t, you’re not. It’s that simple.”

Latavious Brini on the Georgia defense: ‘The performance was elite’

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