ATLANTA — The Georgia football defensive front didn’t exactly get sand kicked in its collective face last season.
But good teams were able to run effectively on the Bulldogs, and changing that trend is one of the biggest concerns entering this season.
Auburn pushed Georgia around in Jordan-Hare Stadium to the tune of 237 yards on the ground, and Oklahoma gashed the Bulldogs for 242 yards.
In fact, Appalachian State (136), Mississippi State (177), Florida (183), Kentucky (124), Georgia Tech (188) and of course Alabama (133) all hit the century mark against Georgia’s front seven.
The Bulldogs plan on getting better — and bigger.
Senior Jonathan Ledbetter revealed that he’s playing outside linebacker in some of Georgia’s 3-4 packages when transfer end Jay Hayes is in the lineup.
“I’m excited I get to play a little more outside linebacker when he’s a defensive end, it will be a good fit for us,” Ledbetter said at the SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame last week.
“We’ll be able to go big up front, and have a close to 300-pound defensive lineman at D-End, and I’m 280 right now,’ Ledbetter said. “I can play outside linebacker at 280, and that’s good to set edges and play big up front when we need to.”
The Bulldogs lost five of their front seven starters from a defense that ranked No. 20 in the nation against the run a year ago, despite its tendency to give up chunks of yards to quality teams.
That’s where Georgia needs the 6-foot-3, 289-pound Hayes to step up and be the kind of force he was when the Bulldogs played in South Bend last season.
Hayes, a graduate transfer, had seven tackles in Georgia’s 20-19 victory over the Irish last season.
Both cornerback J.R. Reed and Ledbetter vouched for Hayes’ worth ethic and abilities.
“He’s a hard worker, he’s a grinder, he works his butt off,” Reed said last week. “He’s always doing extra work, and he’s learning the playbook really fast, which is amazing because our playbook is not easy to learn.”
Ledbetter echoed those sentiments.
“He works really hard, you can tell he’s been through a college football system up at Notre Dame, it’s a different type of mentality, especially a guy who has graduated and decided to come back and use his last year of eligibility to do something,” Ledbetter said. “I hosted him before he decided to commit, he was committed to Oklahoma.
“He’s really driven, and he wants to do something special this year.”
For Georgia football to defend as the SEC Champions, history shows that would start with stopping the run game.