ATHENS — Football is a violent and emotional game, and tempers are going to flare up fro time to time, sometimes among teammates.
Georgia senior defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter had a front row seat for it in the Middle Tennessee game when fellow senior D’Andre Walker got in the grill of freshman Brenton Cox.
The two Bulldogs’ teammates exchanged shoves in the heat of the moment.
— Wes Blankenship (@Wes_nship) September 16, 2018
Kirby Smart called it “love” when asked about the brief on-field altercation between the teammates just before halftime, and addressed it in the locker room after the game.
“You know what I was proud of? There’s some guys that challenged some younger players — we need that!” Smart told the team. “The great programs that I’ve been a part of, and all our coaching staff have been a part of, have had guys that demand excellence.
“So don’t take offense to that, appreciate that they love you and they want you to do it the Georgia way.”
#Dawgs Kirby Smart in the victorious UGA locker room:
“We got a chance to be special but we’re only gonna be special if we decide good is not as good as great.”
via Kirby Smart All Access
— GATA Dawgs (@BassinDawg) September 17, 2018
Ledbetter provided more insight.
“It is love, you want to see everyone succeed and play to the best of their ability and we have people on our team who notice that guys can play better,” Ledbetter said. “Guys have more potential to do things, we’re not going to let them waste their potential.
“We’re going to get on them … We have a standard for our family, and everyone has to play to that standard.”
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs will take that standard to Missouri for a noon clash with the Tigers (TV: ESPN, RADIO: WSB 750 AM, 95.5 FM) in a battle of unbeaten SEC teams.
Georgia players have long moved on from the brief, on-field shoving exchange between Walker and Cox that occurred after the Blue Raiders had found some running lanes.
Rushes on the two previous series of 7, 6, and 6 had drawn Walker’s ire, as he recognized the young 5-star prospect Cox was having an issue with his assignment.
“We had kind of a bust on defense we didn’t close as we should have, and they gashed a pretty good run, and they did it two to three times, and the same individual was not closing,” Ledbetter said. “We had to address that as a team and we did, and we came back and we fixed it, and that’s what you do.”
Georgia, like any other team, has plenty of conflicts and discussions behind the scenes in practice, but most all are a result of players holding one another accountable.
“Sometimes when you care about somebody so much and you want them to do something right, you encourage them to do right,” Smart said Saturday.
“Today showed me some fire and grit that, regardless of the score, the standard’s here. If you don’t play to the standard, you’re going to be called out.”
Ledbetter said what fans don’t see is how such issues ultimately end.
“We go in the locker room and talk about it,” Ledbetter said, “and we hug each other, and we’re like ‘Yo bro, Love you, i’m telling you this because this, I think you can do this way, and if I can help you get there, let me know.’ “
One of the bigger issues entering the season was Georgia needing to find leadership on defense with SEC Defensive Player of the Year Roquan Smith moved on to the NFL.
Both Ledbetter and Walker have stepped into leadership roles, along with J.R. Reed who didn’t bat an eye when asked about the exchange.
“What happened,” Reed said, “is you want to push everyone to be the best.”