Georgia football-pass rush-Nolan Smith
Georgia junior OLB Nolan Smith brings pressure off the edge against Michigan in the Orange Bowl on December 31, 2021, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)

Nolan Smith, Georgia football pass rush not strictly focused on stats: ‘That’s when you accomplish nothing’

It’s understandable why we focus on sacks and other statistics on the defensive side of the ball. It helps provide analysis of a player or unit might be performing. For example, it perfectly illustrates how disruptive Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson was last season. He notched 17.5 sacks, leading the country in said category.

By comparison, Georgia’s outside linebackers finished with 15.5 sacks across the entire position group. Nolan Smith picked up 3.5 of those sacks, while Robert Beal led the team in said category with 6.5.

But just looking at those stats doesn’t paint the full picture of what the Georgia outside linebacker room was asked to do last year. Smith showed an ability to drop into coverage while also maintaining the edge in run support. He was not given the same free reign to attack quarterbacks as Anderson was.

This is where sometimes statistics can lack context. Anderson is not five times better than Smith as their sack totals would indicate.

It’s also not how the game is actually played. Players aren’t actively hunting stats in order to pad their personal accolades.

“It’s supposed to be fun,” Smith said at SEC media days. “When you go out there and have fun, that’s when the game — that’s when you make the most tackles, when you make the most sacks. If you go out there and think about, man, I’ve got to get 12 sacks, I’ve got to get 55 tackles this year, I’ve got to be a first-round pick. That’s when you accomplish nothing.”

Related: What Georgia football really needs from Nolan Smith in 2022 season

Georgia is going to need Smith to have a bit more fun this year than last season. While the outside linebackers didn’t account for the majority of sacks last season, it would be a surprise if they didn’t this year. For one, Smith and Beal are two of the most experienced members of the defense.

The outside linebacker position didn’t suffer the same level of departures that every level of the Georgia defense seemed to. Other than Adam Anderson moving onto the NFL — he went undrafted as he awaits his trial following rape charges stemming from an incident that occurred in October of last year — Georgia brings back everyone from its position last year. The only change is that Chidera Uzo-Diribie is now the position coach as Dan Lanning is now the head coach at Oregon.

The Bulldogs also signed three edge rushers in the 2022 recruiting cycle, led by 5-star freshman Marvin Jones Jr. While expectations will be high for Jones, much of the actual production is expected to come from Smith and Beal.

Both players could’ve entered the NFL draft a season ago yet instead elected to return for their senior seasons. While their legacies are well-established already, they both want to build off what they did last season.

“One hand washes the other. That’s my guy,” Smith said of Beal. “A lot of people don’t like to split reps. A lot of people don’t like to share plays, but someone you can work off of — 1 + 1 is equal to 3 in our program because the connection of me and you is another one. So, a lot of people don’t realize that, and that’s how we play football.”

Georgia will still need to create sacks and tackles for loss from all levels of the defense. Jalen Carter will look to do so from the defensive line, while Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon will look to do so from the inside linebacker position.

Still, the biggest burden will fall on the plate of Smith. He knows this and isn’t burdened by it. He’s put in the hard work over the course of his Georgia career and has been building for a moment like this.

And if he plays as he is capable of doing so, it should be pretty fun to watch.

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