ATHENS — On second look, D’Andre Walker played even better against Missouri than initially thought.
It was clear right away the senior outside linebacker played well in Georgia’s 43-29 road win on Saturday in Columbia, Mo. Everyone could see that Walker made two of the biggest plays in the game, sacking quarterback Drew Lock twice and forcing the ball loose each time, once for a turnover.
But there was even more to it than that. According to a breakdown by Pro Football Focus, Walker actually played a season-high of 65 snaps in the game, and they were mostly very productive. Of those, 37 came in pass-rush situations. In addition to the two sacks and two forced fumbles, Walker also had eight pressures, three quarterback hurries and he hit Lock another time.
Against the run, Walker was credited with four tackles in the game, but he also did an exceptional job of setting the edge and turning Missouri’s backs inside to the Bulldogs’ pursuit.
Walker said afterward he felt like Georgia’s defense had been affecting the passer better than they were being credited before the Missouri game. But the narrative that they couldn’t provided Walker and the Bulldogs with extra motivation.
“That’s all we heard about, and it kind of set the standard for us and our coaches,” Walker said. “I knew all we had to execute on the defensive end and eventually the pressure would get there.”
Missouri came into the game having not allowed a sack all season. Not only was Georgia able to get him down twice, they also produced two fumbles and an interception. What’s more, they held Lock without a touchdown pass for the first time in 13 games.
Walker credited film study and preparation for his good day getting after Lock.
“I knew going in the game that he always took a five-step drop and then come back up in the pocket,” Walker said. “My whole goal was to get my hand on the ball and hopefully the ball would come out. It did, so I was happy about that.”
So was Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who has enjoyed watching Walker’s steady progress since he inherited as a third-down specialist two years ago.
“I think D’Andre has grown into this role,” Smart said Monday. “I thought he had his best game of the four he’s played last week. I would have expected nothing less, because he’s a leader on our team. He’s a very motivated kid. He plays so hard. It’s important to him. … Overall he had a very productive game, mainly because of how hard he plays.”
Nobody has ever questioned Walker’s effort. Since he arrived at UGA from Fairburn’s Langston Hughes High School, Walker has always hustled on the field. He started out like most players, getting the majority of his work on special teams.
The issue early was reigning in and focusing Walker’s effort. It seemed like he was getting flagged for a personal foul every other game those first couple of games.
Then, as an outside linebacker, Walker had to bide his time behind Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. He usually came in on passing downs and finished with 5.5 sacks last season.
This year, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Walker is focused on becoming and every-down player. He has only eight tackles to date, but they’re all solo stops. At the moment, his stats project to be 9 sacks, 24 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 21 quarterback pressures.
That’s equate to one of the best individual seasons in a while for a Georgia outside linebacker.
“He still has room for improvement,” Smart said. “He’ll be the first to tell you he had some missed assignments in the game, that he didn’t do what he was supposed to do, he didn’t play with discipline. … But he’s a tough, good football player that probably a lot of people overlooked throughout his career because he’s behind other guys. But he had a good game the other day, certainly appreciate the production he had in the game because he’s hard to block.”
Walker feels like the best is still ahead both for him and the Georgia defense. He said the Bulldogs weren’t doing anything differently against Missouri as far as scheme and concept. They just executed better.
“I don’t feel like we were holding out,” Walker said. “The teams we’ve been playing in the beginning of the year were getting the ball out very quick. We felt like the quarterback form Missouri didn’t get it out as quick, though he did a few times as well. We just executed better.”