Arkansas wide receiver Jadon Haselwood (9) is tackled by LSU linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. (40) during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Michael Woods

Georgia football recognizes LSU freshman Harold Perkins can wreck SEC championship dreams: ‘You need to know where he is at all times’

ATHENS — Georgia is accustomed to playing star pass rushers. Such is life in the SEC, where Alabama has the likes of Will Anderson and the Bulldogs have Jalen Carter.

But Saturday’s challenge against Harold Perkins is a little different than what Georgia is used to seeing.

For starters, Perkins has played far beyond the level of most freshmen. He’s third in the conference in sacks with 7.5. He also leads LSU in the category along with notching 11.0 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception.

LSU moves Perkins around, much in the same way the Dallas Cowboys use Micah Parsons. Perkins can do a lot of things for this LSU defense, which makes knowing where he is in presnap all the more difficult for the Georgia Bulldogs.

“You know where he’s at when he’s out there, right? They’re going to use him in different ways,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “They’ve changed up the way they use him throughout the year. That’s what good defensive coordinators do. They try to find different ways to put him in maybe a mismatch and utilize him.”

Related: Georgia football eager for 2022 SEC Championship Game: ‘I’ve been wanting to play LSU again’

“You have to know where he is, and you need to know where he is at all times because he’s really athletic. He is very disruptive, and you make your team aware of it.”

LSU is going to Perkins to do a lot of things. Georgia, if it hopes to limit Perkins’ impact, will want to avoid obvious pass-rushing situations where Perkins can simply get after the quarterback.

Georgia isn’t going to alter its game plan simply because of Perkins’ presence. No player is that good. Instead, Georgia will ask its offensive line to keep Perkins off its ball carriers, while tight ends like Brock Bowers will try to make him work in coverage.

It hasn’t come as a surprise to either Smart nor his LSU teammates that Perkins is this good this early. While Georgia didn’t recruit him heavily, Smart knew he was a talented and explosive player coming out of Texas. Perkins was the top-ranked linebacker in the 2022 recruiting cycle and the No. 9 player overall.

Teammates, such as BJ Ojulari, saw early in practice just how much Perkins could do for this team.

“Just being able to see him in SEC games dominating, it’s really no surprise,” Ojulari, the younger brother of former Georgia star Azeez Ojulari, said. “Just the stuff that he’s able to do, how he can help our defense, how instrumental he’s been to the defensive play.”

Perhaps the most freighting thing when it comes to Perkins is that he isn’t a fully developed football player. He doesn’t totally know what he’s doing yet on the defensive side of the ball.

As impressive as he’s been this season, Perkins still has a higher ceiling he can reach. And he had 4.0 sacks in a single game against Arkansas earlier this season.

“He’s very, very talented,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “But, like I said, I mean, it’s both: he’s got to bring his traits and talent together. If he brings both of those, he is an elite and special player.”

Georgia offensive tackle Warren McClendon is excited about the possibility of matching up with Perkins and Ojulari, who is no slouch either with his 5.0 sacks this year. McClendon will be spending a lot of time watching film this week to see all the ways in which LSU employs Perkins.

LSU’s defense is coming off one of its worst performances of the season, as it gave up 38 points to a porous Texas A&M offense last week. But Smart doesn’t expect there to be any carry-over into this week’s game.

And he knows that Perkins is good enough to wreck Georgia’s Sec championship plans if the Bulldogs allow him to do so.

Kirby Smart offers his thoughts on Harold Perkins

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