A lot of great photographs were circulated on social media after Georgia’s victory over Florida on Saturday. One of the most shared of Kirby Smart being carried in a full-on, bear-hug embrace by Jordan Davis.
The 6-foot-6, 330-pound defensive tackle had no choice but to hold on to his head coach. Smart had run and leapt into his arms as soon as the final horn sounded on the Bulldogs’ 24-17 victory.
“He was just the first one I saw, man,” a jubilant Smart said in his postgame press conference. “I was ready to get off the TV.”
Also, as one of the strongest players on the roster, Davis wasn’t apt to drop his 210-pound coach, even as Smart thrashed and high-fived and whooped in celebration. But no one could blame Smart if he was feeling especially affectionate toward his sophomore noseguard.
Davis had, once again, turned in an exemplary performance doing what is an often thankless but oh-so-important job of a noseguard in creating a dominant defense — chiefly, clogging up the middle. The Bulldogs “suffocated” Florida’s run game on Saturday. The Gators managed just 21 yards on 19 rushes, a 1.1 yards-per-carry average. That was a key to limiting a high-octane offense to a season-low 278 total yards.
Davis’ primary responsibility is to tie up blockers in the middle of the line of scrimmage to free up linebackers and safeties to make tackles, and he did his duty well. He finished with just one tackle while middle linebacker Monty Rice and safeties Richard LeCounte and Mark Webb combined for 21.
“He doesn’t get to play a ton when it’s a pass-happy game,” Smart said proudly. “But he got to play some tonight.”
Davis got to get in on some of that pass-defense action, too. While he finished with only one tackle, it was a huge one. Perhaps the biggest.
Davis combined with defensive end Malik Herring on a 19-yard sack of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask. The play came on first-and-10 after the Gators had reached the Georgia 38-yard line early in the third quarter. After a delay-of-game penalty, an incompletion and a two-yard run, Florida ended up having to punt the ball away on fourth-and-32.
After the sack, the gargantuan Davis looked like Bruno Mars as he danced his way to the Georgia sideline.
“I didn’t think he was ever going to finish celebrating,” Smart said of Davis. “But that doesn’t happen very often for a guy like that.”
No, it was the first sack of the season for Davis, who tends to get most of his snaps on run downs. He had 1.5 sacks and 25 tackles during a freshman campaign that saw him start four games.
But Smart expects even more out of the former 3-star prospect out of Charlotte’s Mallard Creek High. As the hug illustrated, the tackle and the coach have a close relationship.
“Kirby’s always pushed me to be the best I can be,” Davis said after the game. “He sees more in me than I even see in myself. Games like this, with a lot of emotion and passion, you can’t help but hug somebody. We love each other. We practice hard; he coaches hard. But, at the end of the day, he loves all of us.”
Smart’s hope is that Davis continues to improve so that the Bulldogs can eventually utilize him as an every-down interior lineman. Because of his size and strength, Davis already a tough matchup for centers and guards, who usually have to double-team him to keep him out of the backfield. But conditioning makes it difficult for Davis to stay on the field for multiple snaps in a row. For now, he shares snaps with junior Devonte Wyatt and senior Julian Rochester.
“If we could get him a little lighter he could really be a force,” Smart said. “We’ve got to get him to shed some pounds.”
Davis has heard that mandate often and recognizes the challenge. It's not easy for him when he finds himself on the Bulldogs' sideline during critical defensive downs, as he was on occasion on Saturday
“I was pacing back and forth; I was really hard on myself,” Davis said. “I feel like, personally, I didn’t have my best game, and I always want to play my best game, especially against a team like Florida. But, you know, I did what I could. I made the plays that came to me. As long as we win, that’s my only concern. I just want to do whatever I can to contribute to the team."
Regardless of his on-field development, Smart anticipates a growing role for Davis.
“He's a leader,” Smart said. “He gave an emotional talk to the team in the locker room when we got here. He’s a very articulate, intelligent, humorous guy. And he’s been a great addition to our team. He just has to continue to work.”
As for a hugger, Davis is already best on the team. Clearly, Smart already knew that.
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