Georgia football-Malaki Starks-Oregon
090322 Atlanta.: Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Malaki Starks (24) intercepts a pass intended for Oregon Ducks wide receiver Seven McGee (7) during the first quarter in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at Mercedes Benz Stadium, Saturday, September 3, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Malaki Starks makes immediate impact for new-look Georgia football defense: ‘One of the greatest interceptions I ever seen’

ATLANTA — Oregon quarterback Bo Nix had the matchup that he wanted. Wide receiver Seven McGee had found a hole in the defense and there was just one player in between him and the end zone. Nix took his shot and floated the ball in the air.

The problem for Nix and the Oregon team was that freshman Malaki Starks was that player. And while it was his first career game, Starks showed why he will be a major problem for opposing quarterbacks not just in the future, but right now.

It was not a thing of beauty from Starks as he was tracking the ball, as he turned too early for the Nix pass and began to tumble. But as he and Thornton came together, Starks lifted off and snarred the pass as if he was grabbing a defensive rebound.

Starks was a 5-star signee in Georgia’s 2022 class out of Jefferson High school in Jefferson, Ga. He was listed as an athlete, given he played quarterback, running back, linebacker and safety. At Georgia, he was being asked to play the safety position, and just that, for the first time in his Georgia career.

There were some growing pains for sure, but that is what spring and fall camp are for. Starks improved over the month of August and earned a bigger role in the Georgia defense. He did not get the start — Dan Jackson did opposite Smith — but he played early and often for Georgia.

Something the Bulldogs will be counting on him to do this season.

“He’s an incredible athlete, incredible player, and you’re going to continue to see plays from him,” Jackson said. “That’s a guy that comes in every day and is locked in and wants to help the team win, and it obviously showed today.”

Smith himself also came down with an interception, a habit he’s made for the Bulldogs in big games. But he left the game later with a stringer. Smith is fine but it demonstrates how thin Georgia is at the position, as Starks would be in-line to take Smith’s spot in the lineup.

Georgia did start one true freshman on Saturday against the Ducks, as Mykel Williams was the first player on the field at defensive end. He was the only player rated higher than Starks in Georgia’s previous signing class.

Related: Oregon quarterback Bo Nix: Names and numbers changed, but ‘same Georgia’ in 49-3 loss

Much like Starks, it was an encouraging debut for the Georgia defense. The Bulldogs kept Oregon out of the end zone, as Georgia cruised to a 49-3 win in a dominant performance. The Bulldogs didn’t notch any sacks, but that’s likely a product of the Oregon offensive system that stressed quick passes.

Saturday was a great first showing for the freshman defensive back. He’s not yet a fully formed player and he’s already found a way to make an impact for this team. It backs up what he did in August and what Georgia hopes he can continue to do throughout his career.

“Well, he’s been probably our most productive defensive back all camp, which means he get lots of hands on balls. Batted balls; he knocked down balls; he had picks,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We wanted to get him in the game early, and fortunately it was a play where he was one-on-one, and he made a really good play on the ball.

“He’s got a lot to learn and I thought he played with great composure today, and he could be a really talented player.”

Georgia safeties rave about debut performance of Malaki Starks

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