ATHENS — Georgia’s struggles with run defense this season are well-documented. But there is some hope for improvement, and it comes in the form of Jordan Davis.
Davis is just a freshman and he plays noseguard. That in itself makes him a rarity, that he’s playing at all. But Davis has something none of Georgia’s other options at the position offer.
He’s big. Really big.
Too big, in fact. At first, anyway.
Davis showed up from Charlotte’s Mallard Creek High carrying 350 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame. Upon the opening of preseason camp in August, coach Kirby Smart immediately declared that Davis would have to drop 20 pounds to have any hope of playing. He was jettisoned to the scout team, where he opened the season.
What has impressed Smart and Davis’ teammates so much is he not only dropped that weight, but then some. And he did it totally on his own. He did it by running on the side, mornings and afternoons.
“Jordan’s development has been a big bonus for us,” Smart said after the Bulldogs’ practice Tuesday. “… He may be one of our best conditioned players now because he spends all of his time conditioning.”
Davis is not just well-conditioned. Apparently he can play some as well. He had seven tackles in the Bulldogs’ 36-16 loss to LSU. He’s now 13th on the team and fourth among down linemen with 15 tackles. He also has a quarterback pressure to his credit.
This is after not making Georgia’s travel roster for its first two away games and playing only sparingly the first third of the season.
“I knew he was a good player just watching his high school film,” said junior Michael Barnett, who shares time at noseguard. “It was just about him developing and learning the system and getting in shape and what-not. I just think he’s a phenomenal player who’s takes it all in and buys into what we’re telling him when we try to coach him up. I think he’s going to be a ball player and a play-maker here in the future.”
The future is now when it comes to Davis needing to contribute. For now, he’s playing behind Barnett and junior Julian Rochester, who has started every game this season. But each of those players barely tips the scales at 300 pounds. Davis is a solid 325, if not more, and proved in the weight room this summer he could move a lot more than that.
The key was being able to stay on the field for longer periods of time. He proved he could do that in the last two games, and he played almost the entire second half against LSU, particularly on run downs.
“He doesn’t play a lot on third down, but he plays really hard when he’s in,” Smart said. “He’s able to sustain better.”
That’s because Davis took to heart Smart’s initial evaluation of needing to be better conditioned. On his own, Davis has been running some mornings before school and every day after practice.
And now it’s paying off.
“He may be one of our best conditioned players now because he spends all of his time conditioning,” Smart said. “That was a big goal for him all along, so it makes me wonder shouldn’t every guy be doing what he’s doing? He runs a lot on his own. He’ll come in the morning and run. He runs Monday, Tuesday and he’ll still have practice. He does a lot of running on his own because he’s trying to maintain his weight, but he’s held up well the two games he’s done it.”
Said linebacker Natrez Patrick: “He’s an example of, it doesn’t matter where you start; it’s all about where you finish. Jordan was a guy who did a lot of scout work for us and kind of came over a couple periods here and there. He got better and better and better going against that first-team offense and running every day after practice. He just kept improving and improving and he did it by working his tail off.”
With a bunch of excess weight now off, the Bulldogs hope Davis helps him bring down opponents’ numbers as well. Entering the Florida game on Saturday, Georgia is eighth in the SEC and 40th in the nation against the run. Opponents are averaging 136.3 yards per game. That’s a downgrade from last season when the Bulldogs were 22nd in the nation and second in the league against the run and even in 2016, when they were 37th and fourth in the league.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs will be facing a multi-back threat in Florida. The Gators average 197.3 yards rushing a game between running backs LaMical Perine (5.4 ypc), Jordan Scarlett (5.4) and Dameon Price (8.4), who all are averaging better than five yards a carry.
In addition to having Davis play a bigger role, Georgia also is getting back sophomore backup Devonte Wyatt this week. The 6-3, 301-pound sophomore missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury.
But it’ll take a collective effort from the Bulldogs’ front seven to slow the Gators’ attack.
“When you’re subbing out guys that are 270, 260 and they’re playing 310-pound people, sometimes you get wore down,” Smart said. “Our offense has a chance to do it to people. Having another big body back is a big help for us.”
Expect to see a lot more of number 99 against Florida, and the rest of the season.
“He’s played well, held up on blocks,” Smart said. “We just need more guys to play that have big bodies and build the wall that we want to build and not let backs through there.”