When discussing possible replacements for Eric Stokes prior to the Peach Bowl, Tyrique Stevenson‘s name did not come up. But the sophomore from Miami was the one who ended up filling in for NFL-bound Stokes.
It wasn’t all pretty for Stevenson on Friday but when Georgia needed it most, he ended up making the most important defensive play of the game.
The Cincinnati Bearcats needed two yards to ice the game and emerge with a huge win over the Bulldogs. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder rolled to his right and had a receiver wide open.
But Stevenson saw it just in time to peel off his own man, put his arms up and perfectly time his leap to deflect the Ridder pass. He did all of that with his back turned as well.
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“Probably was the play of the game. If they complete that, we don’t have a chance to win,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Did a heck of a job.”
Ridder overall had a successful game, throwing for 206 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But much of that success came in the first half, as Georgia’s re-tooled secondary improved over the course of the game.
In addition to Stokes, the Bulldogs were also without Mark Webb due to an undisclosed injury. With Stevenson, Webb’s usual back-up, needed at corner Latavious Brinni ended up filling in a star.
Georgia still didn’t have Richard LeCounte back at full strength and Lewis Cine was in and out of COVID protocol according to Smart.
“We had a lot of guys come in out of position, guys down. It was a really tough week in the secondary,” Smart said. “You couldn’t find a rhythm to say this is where guys are going to play. They rose up today. They played better as the game went on, I thought.”
The biggest difference between the first and second half can be chalked up to communication, according to Chris Smith. Both of Ridder’s touchdown passes came in the first half and he threw for just 36 yards in the final 30 minutes. He took a beating too, as Ridder was sacked eight times, one of which included a costly fumble that led to a short field for Georgia.
“In the second half we came out, we made sure we was talking to each other, calling plays out early, just taking stuff that we learned from the film room to the field,” Smith said.
If there’s a silver lining to the makeshift secondary, it’s that gave playing time to guys who will be asked to do even more in the 2021 season. Georgia will lose LeCounte and Webb in addition to the already departed Stokes and DJ Daniel. Cornerback Tyson Campbell also has an NFL decision to make going forward, as he is a junior.
Stevenson will be back though, along Brini, Smith and Cine. Georgia also has Kelee Ringo, Jalen Kimber and Daran Branch waiting in the wings for more playing time. Ringo is the highest-rated defensive back Georgia has ever signed, though he missed his freshman season due to injury. Ringo did dress out for the first time against the Bearcats.
Georgia really needed Stevenson to close out the 2020 season. He came through when the Bulldogs needed him to most do so. It’ll likely ask him to do that even more in 2021, especially with Georgia opening against Clemson.
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