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Nolan Smith had a strong season-opener

Kirby Smart on outside linebacker Nolan Smith: ‘He has never had a bad day’

For much of the offseason, one of the discussed areas of improvement for the Georgia defense in 2020 was pressuring the passer. Last season, Georgia finished with just 31 sacks and ranked seventh in the conference in that category. For all the Georgia defense did well last season, that was one part where the Bulldogs could certainly stand to improve.

And in the opening game of the season, sophomore outside linebacker Nolan Smith delivered in that aspect against Arkansas. The sophomore outside linebacker registered 1.5 sacks in the game against the Razorbacks, with both coming in the second half.

Related: Nolan Smith on Georgia pass rush: ‘We’re gonna cause a lot of havoc’

The first one was pivotal for Georgia, as it came on a third down in the red zone.  Smith teamed up with a few different Bulldogs to bring down Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks.

The 1.5 sacks against the Razorbacks were more than Smith had in any SEC game as a freshman.

“Nolan [Smith] is fun to coach. He is full of spirit. He has never had a bad day,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He is fired up out there on the practice field. He is one of those guys you just like to coach.”

In addition to the pass rush he provided, Smith played a role in limiting the Arkansas rushing attack to just 77 yards. Rakeem Boyd, who ran for 1,133 yards last season, had a miserable day rushing for just 21 yards on 11 carries.

Related: Georgia football defense will need to ‘build the rest of our team up and grow our team’

Smith is the former No. 1 overall prospect in the country for the 2019 recruiting class. But he isn’t one to just rely on his natural talent.

The word fellow outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari used to describe the sophomore from Savannah, Ga., was relentless.

“Nolan just comes out here and works hard every day,” Ojulari said. “He’s relentless in his pursuit. He just works on different moves and continues to get better.”

Related: Nolan Smith …. from “Baby Boy” to Bulldog

Another reason for Smith’s constant effort is that finding playing time at the outside linebacker position is a difficult proposition at this point in time.

Between Smith, Ojulari, Jermaine Johnson and Adam Anderson, there’s a ton of talent in that room for the Bulldogs. So much so that multi-year starter Walter Grant didn’t make the trip to Arkansas and neither did highly-touted freshman MJ Sherman.

This is forcing Smart and his defensive staff to find different personnel packages to get the likes of Smith and Ojulari on the field.

Smith even offered to work with the scout team as just a way to find more practice reps in preparation for Georgia’s rigorous all-SEC slate.

“He texted me the other night and said, ‘Can I go to the scout team? I am not getting enough reps. I am having to rotate among three guys. I want more reps. Can I go get more reps on scout team?’ That is just the kind of kid he is,” Smart said.

Georgia will need another strong performance from Smith and the outside linebacker group this week against No. 7 Auburn if the Bulldogs are to win. Auburn replaced four starters from its 2019 offensive line but the unit held up very well in the opener against Kentucky. The Tigers offensive line allowed just two pressures on 30 dropbacks and no sacks in the 29-13 win against Kentucky.

The Bulldogs and Tigers kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game will air on ESPN. College GameDay will be in town to preview the game as well.

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart previews Georgia football game against Auburn

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