ATHENS — After his first game in Sanford Stadium, it’s very clear freshman outside linebacker Nolan Smith does not have an off switch.
Smith’s effort and motor has drawn rave reviews from the time he stepped on campus. When you combine those aspects along with the physical gifts — Smith was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class — it’s easy to imagine him putting up a lot of games like he did in Georgia’s 63-17 win over Murray State.
In his first real action in Sanford Stadium, Smith racked up 1.5 sacks to lead the Georgia pass rush. On the day, the Bulldogs finished with 6.0 sacks. It’s the most sacks Georgia has had in a game since Kirby Smart took over prior to the 2016 season.
“He’s got a tremendous motor. He’s another guy that plays with passion and energy. I love the way Nolan plays,” Smart said.” If he can continue to grow and play with physicality and matchup against bigger people, he’s going to be able to help us. He’s got a ton of speed.”
In physical terms, Smith isn’t the specimen that some of his counterparts are in the outside linebacker room. Redshirt freshman Azeez Ojulari and junior Jermaine Johnson are both bigger than Smith, while sophomore Adam Anderson likely has him beat in the speed category.
But Smith’s never-out-of-gas-motor helps him cover up for any of the things that usually happen with freshmen.
“Him knowing what to do. He comes in every week ready to work and compete no matter what,” Ojulari said. “He gives relentless effort and it just pays off.”
Smith’s first sack of the game came in the first quarter. He kept pushing the Murray State offensive tackle backward until Smith was basically in the lap of Murray State quarterback Preston Rice. Smith got there at the same time as fellow freshman Travon Walker. Those two only being freshmen should excite Georgia fans and terrify opposing SEC fan bases.
His second sack in the win was one of those classic effort plays. Rice would end up rolling to his left on the play, away from where Smith started on the right side of the field. But Smith barreled through three Murray State offensive linemen and ultimately brought down Smith.
— HRKK (Hiro Katsuki) (@KatsukiFB) September 7, 2019
The play ended up being similar to his first career tackle, which came in the win over Vanderbilt. The Commodores’ Riley Neal stepped up in the pocket and tried to take off after feeling some pressure from Smith. But instead of stopping or slowing down, Smith chased down Neal from behind and brought him to the ground for a 1-yard gain.
And Smith’s energy isn’t limited to just when he’s on the playing field. The freshman from IMG Academy was consistently the first player to meet and congratulate his teammates as they come off the field. When Anderson picked up his first sack of the season, there was no one happier in the stadium than Smith as the two met on the sidelines.
His energy, smile and passion are immediately noticeable and those attributes bring joy to his teammates. Ojulari had a massive smile on his face when asked about Smith on Saturday.
Georgia is almost certainly going to face better competition in the weeks ahead, given Murray State is an FCS program. But if Smith is going to play like he did on Saturday — in a game where the onfield temperature approached triple digits — he’s going to be a major problem for the rest of the SEC.
“He’s fast, he’s an animal,” D’Andre Swift said. “And he brings it out here on Saturdays.”
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