What Georgia football misses the most without Richard LeCounte
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What Georgia football misses the most without Richard LeCounte
The loss of the senior safety Richard LeCounte has clearly been felt by the Georgia defense in recent weeks. It’s perhaps the single biggest reason why a defense that many thought was the top unit in the country, is definitively not that at this point in the year.
LeCounte played in Georgia’s first five games of the season, where the unit helped carry the Georgia team. In those games, the Bulldogs gave up just an average of 14.8 points per game.
In a game against Kentucky, LeCounte had perhaps his finest performance, racking up 13 tackles, breaking up three passes and a fumble recovery. The Wildcats were kept out of the endzone on the day and LeCounte went on to win SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
But in the hours after the game, LeCounte was involved in a traffic accident where he sustained numerous injuries. LeCounte has not played since and is still not yet back practicing. He will not play against South Carolina.
Without LeCounte, the Georgia defense looks like a shell of itself. They’ve given up 810 passing yards in those two games along with five passing touchdowns to just while forcing a single turnover. Georgia has also given up 34 points per game against Mississippi State and Florida.
But beyond that, there’s a sense of uneasiness without LeCounte to clean things up. Following a Mississippi State player getting wide open only for him to drop the pass, senior linebacker Monty Rice and senior defensive back Mark Webb were seen arguing with each other on the field.
A defense that once played with so much swagger seems to have none of that at the moment.
“He breeds confidence and it trickles down into the other players, with Richard,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “You probably miss some of that, that play-making ability.”
LeCounte has accounted for half of Georgia’s eight turnovers this season, a clear sign of just how disruptive he’s been. And despite not playing in the last two games, he is still tied for the team lead in pass break-ups.
Smart further specified though that it wasn’t just his ability to make plays. That’s always been there for the three-year starter.
“I don’t want to call it play-making ability because he always made plays,” Smart said. “That’s the one thing about Richard [LeCounte], you cannot find a game that he did not have some crazy breakout in the middle or run down a reverse or just make an acrobatic interception.
“Just that moxie and play-making abilities is probably one of the biggest things and confidence.”
Fellow starting safety Lewis Cine perhaps best illustrates the impact of not having LeCounte. Cine is certainly a capable player for the Bulldogs and one that has improved for Georgia in his first season as a full-time starter.
But he is not the playmaker that LeCounte is. That’s best evidenced by a dropped interception he had against Mississippi State. It’s a play that after the game Cine said he absolutely should make.
More than that though, Cine admits there’s a stark difference between the way he and LeCounte go about directing the secondary.
“He speaks his mind more and is more vocal,” Cine said. “I’m more action, a lot more just do instead of talk or any of that. My way of taking leadership is just communicating with other guys on the field.”
The Florida game, where Cine was ejected due to a targeting penalty, showed perhaps how much LeCounte was missed as a traffic cop in the secondary. Florida had players running free on wheel routes throughout the game.
And in the Mississippi State game, the Bulldogs from Starkville seemed content to attack the middle of the field because it knew Georgia’s safeties wouldn’t be able to disrupt the short passes in time.
The two games help perfectly explain why Cine wants LeCounte back out there with him at safety.
“He brings a whole lot of juice to the defense,” Cine said. “For one, I’m really, really waiting for the day that he can come back. Hopefully, that’s very soon. We love Richard, and that’s what we’re missing.”
Cine isn’t the only Georgia defender who wishes LeCounte was out there. It’s clear he was the star that stirred the drink for this Georgia defense. Imagine the 2017 defense without Roquan Smith. Or the 2019 defense without JR Reed. While one was a linebacker and another a safety, they were both playmakers and major communicators on the Georgia defense.
LeCounte was that for the 2020 defense. Cine might one day be that for a future Georgia defense. But the past two games have proved that Cine isn’t LeCounte. And really no player on Georgia’s team brings what LeCounte does.
That’s why the group misses him. And the likes of Cine and Smart want to see him back on the field for the Bulldogs.
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