‘A really complete player’: Georgia glad to have Azeez Ojulari for Peach Bowl against Cincinnati
Ojulari has seen his draft stock shoot up following his redshirt sophomore season, where he once again led Georgia in sacks with 5.5 in just nine games. Some have the outside linebacker as even a potential first-round draft pick.
Georgia was already set to be without Jermaine Johnson, who has transferred to Florida State, so getting Ojulari back to protect and attack the edges of the Cincinnati offense is a huge boost to the Georgia defense.
“Just helping out with the pass-rush game, also run game, too. I feel like his run game is overlooked by his pass game,” Georgia defensive end Malik Herring said. “Azeez really is a complete player. You can tell when he’s not out there, he really helps us.”
While Ojulari is playing, Georgia will be without defensive difference-makers in cornerback Eric Stokes and inside linebacker Monty Rice, as they have opted to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
That will make an already tough task against the unbeaten Bearcats even harder. Cincinnati enters the game with one of the better offenses Georgia will face this season, as the Bearcats rank 15th in scoring offense and 11th in yards per play in the country.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart has made it a point to praise Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder at every opportunity, and said the Cincinnati wide receivers are among the best Georgia has played this season, outside of Alabama.
Having a disruptor like Ojulari will go a long way in gumming things up for the Cincinnati offense against Georgia.
So what does Ojulari bring to the Georgia defense beyond his obvious pass-rushing skills? His position coach and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning had no problem gushing about the redshirt sophomore from Marietta, Ga.
“Azeez is a lead-by-example guy. He does exactly what you ask him to do,” Lanning said. “From a player standpoint, I think he’s become more refined each year. You talk about player improvement from where he’s come from when he first got here to what he’s become this year. His ceiling is really high.”
That last phrase about Ojulari’s potential is telling, especially as we enter the draft cycle. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had Ojulari as the No. 3 outside linebacker in the 2021 NFL Draft cycle.
Ojulari has also shown marked improvement in each of the last two seasons, likely due in part to the fact that he continues to regain his form following a knee injury he suffered during his senior year of high school.
That injury limited Ojulari’s impact during his first year on campus, as he redshirted. In the final game of the season, Ojulari got extended playing time in a loss to Texas. While the team result was disappointing, it was a sign of things to come from the Georgia linebacker.
In addition to his tangible abilities, Ojulari earns a lot of praise for his approach to the game when he’s not on the field. He was a captain for three games this season and just about everyone has something to say about his work ethic.
“I think he’s developed a lot of trust within our players. They trust that Azeez is going to do his job,” Lanning said. “Azeez is a guy that’s attacked his weaknesses, and said, ‘Hey, here’s the things I want to improve.’ You see that show up on film.”
In addition to sacks, he led the team in tackles for loss with 9.5 and pressures with 31. It was a stellar season for Ojulari and one that should make him a very coveted NFL draft prospect.
And for at least one more game, a Georgia defender that is worth paying a lot of attention to. The Bulldogs and Bearcats kickoff at 12 p.m. ET on Friday, with the game airing on ESPN.
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