ATHENS, Ga. — There’s a new reward for Georgia defensive players who create turnovers – golden shoulder pads adorned with spikes.
Under a motivational tactic devised by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, a spike squad is created each game. Players who come up with the ball get to wear the special shoulder pads on the sideline until the defense returns to the field.
There could be many candidates for the spike squad this season. The defense is earning praise for its speed as No. 13 Georgia prepares to play Samford on Saturday night.
Linebacker Davin Bellamy wore the spiked pads in the postgame celebration following Georgia’s 20-19 win at then-No. 24 Notre Dame last week. Bellamy’s forced fumble was recovered by Lorenzo Carter late in the game to clinch the win.
Following the game, Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush said the Bulldogs’ defense has more speed than any he has faced.
“I never played against a team with speed like that,” Wimbush said. “All 11 positions, all the guys were really physical and had speed.”
Carter enjoyed Wimbush’s description.
“That’s what we try to do,” Carter said Tuesday. “We want to be known. We’re trying to build that statement, that’s us. That’s our identity. We’re a fast defense and physical. We’re going to fly around the whole game.”
Carter had a sack, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in the game.
The defense provided great support for freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who was making his first start.
The Bulldogs held Notre Dame to 266 yards, including only 55 yards rushing. The Fighting Irish converted only 3 of 17 third-down opportunities.
Georgia (2-0) is still fine-tuning an offense that relies on senior tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and is awaiting the return of quarterback Jacob Eason from a sprained left knee. For now, the defense is the strength of the team.
“It’s awesome,” Chubb said. “We know we have full confidence in them. When they go out there we know they’re going to get a stop. It’s back on us. We know we have to do a better job of putting points on the board. We know our defense is playing good.”
The defense is led by linebackers Bellamy, Carter and Roquan Smith, safety J.R. Reed and defensive tackle Trenton Thompson.
Carter said Smith, who had seven tackles and a sack against Notre Dame, is “the leader, he’s the heart and soul of our defense.”
Coach Kirby Smart, the former longtime defensive coordinator at Alabama, was expected to overhaul the Georgia defense.
He gives Tucker credit for the improvements in the coaching staff’s second season.
Smart has been careful to guard against his players relishing the win over Notre Dame.
“It’s just the beginning,” Carter said. “We’re just getting started. We can’t live off this one game. We’ve got a long season ahead of us. If we are going to get where we plan to get, we’ve got to move on fast.”
Even so, Carter didn’t hesitate when asked how good this defense can be.
“However good we want to be,” he said. “If we work hard, keep taking coaching, just keep pounding, I really think we have a good chance to be one of the best defenses in the country.”