ATHENS — Sterling Bailey is about as mild-mannered and reserved as they come in terms of football players. But when he threw his man aside and yanked down Missouri’s Drew Lock late in the first quarter this past Saturday, he directed a yell skyward that appeared to have originated at his toe tips before exiting violently from mouth.
You’ll have to forgive the 6-foot-3, 290-pound senior. But when you’re an interior defensive lineman and spend most of your time fighting through double-teams and tying up blockers for the linebackers, sacking a quarterback is like expecting a bicycle on Christmas morning and getting a Harley instead.
“Being on the inside it’s hard to come across a sack,” said Bailey, an already-graduated senior. “When you get one, it’s an exciting feeling because you’ve worked so hard to get it. And you don’t want to work that hard and then have it slip through your fingertips. That’s one of the worst feelings. So, yeah, I was excited.”
It was the first sack of the season for Bailey, who came into the game with 1.5 in his career, and one of four sacks the Bulldogs would log in the 9-6 win over Missouri. But it was not what was foremost on Bailey’s mind after Georgia wrapped up it’s second, full-contact practice of the bye week on Thursday.
With Florida looming next week in Jacksonville, Bailey has thought constantly about the debacle that occurred against the Gators last year. Georgia gave up 418 yards rushing on 60 carries in a 38-20 loss that pretty much derailed the season.
Georgia came into that contest ranked second in the SEC in rushing defense at 105.1 yards a game. They ended up giving up the most rushing yards since 430 yards on 63 attempts in 1978.
The memory was already fresh having to watch the game tape multiple times this week. Now Bailey and Georgia’s other defenders are having to answer to the press about it, too.
“I think it’s stuck with a lot of us who played last year,” said Bailey, who did not start but finished with four tackles. “… Just having people run all over your defense like that is not good. You want your defense to be aggressive and be able to stop the run. I’ve been talking to some of the other guys about how we’ve got to stress the importance of this game. Yes, the SEC East is on the line, but it’s so much more than that.”
Asked exactly what occurred to let Kelvin Taylor (25-197-2 TDs) to get loose for that many yards, Bailey just shook his head.
“We just didn’t execute the way we practice,” he said. “We’ve just got to stick to the game plan and execute in practice and in the game and just believe in ourselves.”
Much has changed since last season. The Gators have changed head coaches from Will Muschamp to Jim McElwain and most of their offensive line has graduated and moved on, too. Not coincidentally, Florida enters the game ranked 13th in the SEC with 126.7 rushing yards per game.
Then again, Taylor is back, and so is quarterback Treon Harris, who returned to a starting role after Will Grier got benched by the NCAA two weeks ago.
“Giving up that much yardage on the ground is not pleasant for any defense,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We’ll be working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
So will Bailey.
Going into the season, that’s something that we wanted to do, just stop the run,” said Bailey a starter on the league’s No. 7 defense against the runn (120.9 ypg). “We’re just holding onto to that this year. We know what we have to do.”