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As Georgia defensive line shines, Kirby Smart wants to see more from Travon Walker
Georgia’s defensive line hasn’t just been a pleasant surprise so far this season. It’s arguably been the best unit on the team. Georgia’s run defense is first in the SEC and fresh off a game against Florida where the Gators ran for a season-low 21 yards.
The Bulldogs — who entered the year with plenty of questions mark along with the unit — have gotten contributions from a number of players. Malik Herring has flashed as a disruptive player from a variety of positions. Tyler Clark is having a bounce-back season for Georgia and made big plays against Florida and South Carolina.
And Jordan Davis is still only scratching the surface of his potential as he’s become a handful for opposing teams to block at 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds.
But there’s one guy Georgia coach Kirby Smart would like to see more of going forward. That’s true freshman Travon Walker.
“He’s got a lot of promise because he’s got a lot of heart. We’ve got to find ways to use his talents more,” Smart said. “He’s playing but he’s a talented player.”
As Herring pointed out, Walker truly is an athletic marvel. He’s 6-foot-5, 290 pounds. Georgia very much wishes there were two of him. In addition to working as a key member of Georgia’s third-down unit, he’s playing on kickoff team for the Bulldogs, That’s unheard of for someone of his size.
Walker’s skills go beyond his athletic gifts, as Smart praised his mental approach to the game.
“He’s bright. He’s conscientious,” Smart said. “He’s one of those people… he takes pride in his performance every day so he’ll watch the tape and say, ‘Man, I see what you’re saying coach. I can do better than that,’ and he raises his standard.”
Walker’s playing time was limited in the month of October after wrist surgery forced him to miss the South Carolina and Kentucky games. But he was back for the Florida game. He used his gigantic arms to knock down a third-down pass of Kyle Trask, which ended a promising Florida drive with a field goal.
Smart called it one of the biggest plays in the game.
“He’s long, he can run fast and he’s strong. his future is probably going to be way better than mine,” Herring said.
Georgia’s incredible depth at the position is one reason why Walker has yet to become an every-down contributor. But there is a benefit to playing such a deep rotation. Herring noted how much fresher he feels during the game, now that he’s only on the field for 20-25 plays.
Smart was asked on Tuesday what difference there was between the defensive line this year and last year. A season ago, the Bulldogs ranked fifth in the conference in rushing yards allowed. It became a significant problem against LSU, Alabama and Texas, all Georgia defeats in 2018.
Smart didn’t give anything definitive in that category. He noted that this year’s group is more experienced and that the depth might be a little better.
Walker though is the one significant difference between last year’s group and the 2019 unit. He was the first 5-star defensive linemen Smart signed in his time at Georgia. And the Bulldogs adding him to a group that’s gotten better year over year is why the Bulldogs have gone from a good defense in 2018 to potentially the best unit in the SEC in 2019.
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart on Travon Walker
Georgia coach Kirby Smart doesn’t care about College Football Playoff rankings
The first set of College Football Playoff rankings have been released for the 2019 season. And the Georgia Bulldogs placed well in the committee’s initial rankings, as the Bulldogs came in at No. 6 in the rankings.
The top four teams are Ohio State at No. 1, LSU at No. 2, Alabama at No. 3 and Penn State at No. 4. Unbeaten Clemson came in at No. 5.
The Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1) were the highest-ranked one-loss team in both the Coaches and AP Polls, putting them ahead of the likes of No. 7 Oregon, No. 8 Utah and No. 9 Oklahoma.
Georgia boasts wins over No. 10 Florida and No. 15 Notre Dame. But the Bulldogs do have one noticeable blemish on their resume, as they lost at home to a 4-5 South Carolina team. Only once in the brief history of the College Football Playoff has a team lost to an opponent that did not reach a bowl game and still make the College Football Playoff. That happened back in 2016 with Oklahoma.
The Bulldogs will have an opportunity to play themselves into the playoff picture in the coming weeks. Georgia visits No. 11 Auburn on Nov. 16, in addition to having games against Missouri, Texas A&M and Georgia Tech. Georgia is also in the driver’s seat to win the SEC East and possibly play either Alabama or LSU in the SEC championship game. Every SEC champion has played in the College Football Playoff.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked about the significance of the rankings prior to their release on Tuesday night.
“I’m so tied in with what we’ve got this week, I don’t even think about that,” Smart said. “I don’t have any idea and don’t care. Everyone knows it doesn’t matter. What matters is how we play against Missouri. That’s the only thing we can control.”
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
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- Anthony Edwards draws standing ovation in debut, leads Georgia to 91-72 win
- Georgia football podcast: UGA win vs. Florida has Dan Mullen supporters backtracking
- Georgia football coach Kirby Smart reveals more injuries
- FLASHBACK: The fascinating story of how Lawrence Cager ended up at Georgia
- Georgia football recruiting: The mid-year enrollee picture for 2020
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