ATHENS — As Georgia defensive players joyfully exited the field after stopping Notre Dame’s final drive, the first player Georgia coach Kirby Smart went up to wasn’t D.J. Daniel or Mark Webb — who blanketed Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool on the final play and swatted Ian Book’s pass attempt to the ground.
Nor did he immediately embrace with senior safety J.R. Reed, whose sliding interception in the fourth quarter was one of the best defensive plays made by a Georgia defender all season.
No, the player he went up and embraced after the 23-17 victory was sealed was redshirt freshman Divaad Wilson. And after Wilson’s stellar performance, the hug and cheers from Smart were very much deserved.
The common Georgia fan may not have known who Wilson was prior to Saturday’s game. But the redshirt freshman made a number of key stops in the game and a third-quarter interception that helped set the tone for Georgia’s strong second half.
“He works hard. Divaad’s a talented player that loves football,” Smart said after the win. “He works every day. He understands coverages and leverages real well and made a big play tonight.”
Wilson isn’t your typical cornerback, as he plays more out of the STAR position for Georgia, which functions as a hybrid between the safety and cornerback position. Factor in that he wasn’t a highly rated recruit — comparatively speaking of course as he was a 4-star prospect and the No. 242 overall player in the 2018 recruit — and that he missed most of his freshman season with a torn ACL, it’s fairly easy to see understand why Wilson’s star performance seemed to come out of nowhere.
But as he told reporters after the game, moments like Saturday night are when Wilson plays his best.
“I live for big games. My mom always tells me I’m built for big games, so let’s do it,” Wilson said.
The biggest play Wilson made on the day came on Notre Dame’s opening drive of the third quarter. On third down, Notre Dame wide receiver Chris Finke failed to corral a Book pass and the ball ricocheted into the air. Wilson was able to snare the pass and take a few steps, thus securing the ball. Notre Dame running back Tony Jones came over and ripped the ball out of Wilson’s hands.
As the ball bounced between Georgia and Notre Dame defenders, Wilson was able to dive back on the ball and recover for Georgia.
INTERCEPTION!!! Divaad Wilson @NikemanNewt !!!
— HRKK (Hiro Katsuki) (@KatsukiFB) September 22, 2019
” I made a big play when it was needed. He [Finke] tipped it, so I had to go snatch it out of the air,” Wilson said of the interception. ” Then after that, it was just chaos.”
The shortened field — the Georgia offense started on Notre Dame’s 22-yard line — led to a Georgia field goal that tied the game. But the interception kickstarted Georgia’s strong second half, where the Bulldogs outscored Notre Dame 16-7.
But Wilson didn’t just impact the game with his interception. The defensive back made a number two key tackles and added a pass break-up — all on third down — to put an end to four of Notre Dame drives. On all three of Notre Dame’s third-quarter drives — a quarter in which Notre Dame did not record a first down — Wilson came up with a stop.
— HRKK (Hiro Katsuki) (@KatsukiFB) September 23, 2019
Georgia’s secondary needed Wilson’s contributions, especially when factoring in that Georgia was without its two starting cornerbacks. Tyson Campbell didn’t dress for the game due to a right foot injury. Then on Notre Dame’s opening drive, Eric Stokes suffered a knee injury that kept him out for the majority of the game.
That meant the Bulldogs had to turn to some unexpected contributors on Saturday. And for the most part — save for a few completions to Claypool and Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet — the Georgia secondary held strong.
“You see Tyrique McGee, he hasn’t played a lot this year and he comes in and plays corner. You see D.J. Daniel step up and play corner,” senior safety J.R. Reed said. “We had a bunch of guys step up and that makes us very, very explosive on defense.”
Wilson added that this year’s team and defense seem to have better chemistry, which would explain why the Georgia secondary was able to withstand the personnel losses that it did on Saturday.
But an even bigger reason Georgia was able to weather the storm on defense against the Fighting Irish, was because of the big-time plays made by Wilson.
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