Even with Brenton Cox at Florida, Georgia football pass rush still leading SEC in sacks
When Georgia landed Brenton Cox has a 5-star player in the 2018 signing class, he was expected to provide a boost to the Georgia pass rush for years to come. The Stockbridge native was a hulking 6-foot-3 defensive end with a ton of upside due to his physique.
And he ended up contributing in his freshman season, as he picked up 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack. When D’Andre Walker left in the fourth quarter of the 2018 SEC Championship Game, he was thrown into an every-down role.
But Cox never built on that in his time at Georgia. In August of 2019, Cox entered the transfer portal. He ended up at Florida and is now the top pass rusher for the Gators, as he has a team-high 3.5 tackles for loss as well as a sack and nine hurries in four games for Florida.
“He’s an explosive pass rusher, really good player like he was coming out of high school,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He plays really hard and is hard to block. Todd (Grantham) does a good job of putting him in situations where he gets to rush.”
Cox did not play against the Bulldogs last season as he sat out the season after not getting a waiver from the NCAA. According to his current head coach Dan Mullen, that really helped Cox become the player he has this season.
“He ended up being on the scout team last year but had a great attitude, worked his tail off,” Mullen said. “And all the work he put in last year and not being able to play is showing this year in his performance on the field.”
Cox made headlines prior to the Texas A&M game when he said he was looking forward to the Georgia contents, calling it “personal.”
Though even with Cox playing well and being a point of focus in game planning, the Bulldogs haven’t exactly missed him. That’s due in part to the play of two other 2018 pass-rushing signees for Georgia.
At this point, Georgia actually leads the conference in both sacks and sacks per game with 17 through five games. Redshirt sophomore Azeez Ojulari, one of the players who ended up taking playing time away from Cox prior to his transfer, leads the conference in sacks with 4.5. The Bulldogs have also seen Adam Anderson take a big step forward this season as he has 2.5 sacks.
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) November 4, 2020
Add in 2019 signees Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson who are regular contributors at the position and it’s easy to see why the Bulldogs have been able to weather the transfer of Cox.
But along with Smart, Cox’s former teammates make it clear he’s still a very good player and one Georgia needs to be aware of.
“It will be very exciting to play against him. He’s a great player for them and he was a great player here,” Georgia left tackle Jamaree Salyer said. “Excited for them and just that matchup will be really fun for me and I’m sure it will fun for him.”
Salyer grew up playing park ball with Cox and was a fellow 2018 signee. He knows he’ll play a significant role in trying to slow Cox on Saturday and said he’s excited for the opportunity.
This isn’t the first time Georgia players have seen a former teammate suit up against them this season, as Cade Mays did so for Tennessee. Salyer added that Georgia isn’t trying to scheme out to specifically go after Cox due to some petty grudge-holding.
“We try to not make the game about one person or who was here and who left,” Salyer said. “We try to make it about doing what he do and playing hard.”
If Georgia is going to win on Saturday, it’s going to need the likes of Ojulari and Anderson to pressure and sack Florida quarterback Kyle Trask. Cox undoubtedly would’ve been able to help in that task were he still at Georgia.
But Georgia now has to gameplan against him instead. Smart said it wasn’t aggravating given Georgia won the first recruiting battle for Cox, only to see him end up playing for a rival.
The Bulldogs just have to make they know where Cox is when he is on the field.
“He’s playing physical, he’s playing hard,” Smart said. “He’ll create some issues for his Saturday and we have to do a good job of knowing where he’s at.” —
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