‘88′ more than just another number on Georgia defense; opponents identify Jalen Carter each play
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — There are some players so popular effective that they are known simply by their first name.
Then there are others where only a number is needed, and No. 1-ranked Georgia has a few: 19 (Brock Bowers) and 0 (Darnell Washington) are well-known to opposing defenses.
Centers, quarterbacks and coordinators take note of No. 88, identifying when Jalen Carter checks into the game and where he lines up.
“I look for Jalen Carter — and not to take away anything from anybody at Tennessee — but this guy is one of the best interior D-Line pass rushers in the country,” Pruitt said. “You’ve got to push the pocket against Tennessee and get Hendon Hooker off the spot.”
And that’s what 88 does, again and again, better than any defensive lineman in the nation.
The timing for Carter’s re-emergence couldn’t be better with UGA sacks leader and edge rusher Nolan Smith going down with a torn pectoral muscle.
RELATED: Georgia issues official statement on Nolan Smith injury and surgery
Georgia’s defensive front will need a pick-me-up after losing a talented leader like Smith, and Carter is recognized as among the best at his position in the nation.
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel, the latest offensive genius in college football, knew exactly who a Georgia reporter was talking about when he asked him about “Number 88″ at his Monday press conference.
“He’s athletic and disruptive, great on third downs rushing the passer,” Heupel said. “He’s explosive, dynamic and changes the way the game is played.
“If you watch the video when he’s healthy, that’s on normal downs, too. With the versatility from him, he can be a problem.”
Georgia first-round defensive line picks Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt both said Carter possessed a higher upside than either one of them.
Carter has been widely projected as a Top 5 pick in the NFL Draft from the onset of the season, leading some to wonder if he might opt out of the rest of the season to ensure health.
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Carter, instead, showed the sort of buy-in and focus that has led Georgia to become a perennial national championship contender, ready to play for his teammates and get the full benefit of the one-of-a-kind experience college football seasons provide.
Coach Kirby Smart has been proud of Carter’s growth and maturation through these past three seasons, mixing just enough prodding with praise to help his player maximize his ability and realize his potential.
Smart implied in the offseason a dynamic campaign was ahead for Carter if he could bring his game intensity to the practice field on a daily basis to reach a high ceiling.
Carter not only put in the hard work in the offseason, he has followed it up by showing his mental and physical toughness.
Carter playing through an ankle injury he suffered on the first defensive snap of the season before returning from a sprained MCL after missing just two games.
RELATED: Kirby Smart reveals injury Jalen Carter suffered against Oregon
Florida coach Billy Napier revealed it was Carter who blew up the Gators’ fourth-and-6 attempt late in the game against Georgia, foiling their final comeback hopes.
“We had individual matchup inside, (and) 88 won an individual matchup there,” Napier said “He created a pressure in the pocket. Ultimately got him (Anthony Richardson) out of his rhythm there and his progression.”
Smart knew Carter’s presence would make a difference — he played 20 snaps in his first game back from the MCL sprain — but he didn’t know just how strong he played until reviewing the film.
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“He played probably better than I expected,” Smart said. You know, when y’all asked me after the game, I didn’t really know how much effect he really had. He was in on run, he was in on pass. He executed well. He held the point. He didn’t feel like it bothered him. So, you know, it’s really about stamina and him being able to hold up in conditioning.
“And one thing he’s been doing a lot of lately is conditioning. He hadn’t been practicing. So we hope to have him in great shape and hopefully, he’s able to go and be full speed.”