Want to know why Georgia’s defense is so good this season? It starts with the Bulldogs’ two quarterbacks.
The QBs of the defense, that is.
That would be senior safety J.R. Reed and junior linebacker Monty Rice.
Those two players, more than any others, make sure that the Bulldogs get lined up correctly before each and every snap. It’s a responsibility both take very seriously.
Reed revealed this week that he and Rice get together three times a week on their own time to review game and practice video and make sure they’re on the same page heading into that week’s game.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” Reed said as he got ready to join Rice for their 8 p.m. session Tuesday night. “It’s mainly me and Monty. Malik Herring is in there most of the time. Anyone who wants to join us, we let everyone know we’re there. But it’s always us two.”
Reed, a 6-foot-1, 194-pound senior from Frisco, Texas, has started every game for the past three seasons for the Bulldogs at free safety. Rice, a 6-1, 235-pound junior from Huntsville, Ala., plays the “Mike,” or middle inside linebacker.
As such, they’re both expected to make calls and adjustments based on the signals they’re getting from the sidelines and then what they’re seeing from the opponent’s offense.
They haven’t been perfect, but based on the Bulldogs’ status atop the SEC and in the top five nationally in total defense, rush defense and scoring allowed, they’re doing an excellent job of it.
“Most of my job that people don’t see is I get people lined up all the time,” Reed said. “That’s what I spend the majority of my time doing in games and in practice. I try to alert them of little things that are going to happen before the ball is snapped and with pre-snap motions and things like that.”
“He’s a field general,” Rice said of Reed. “He gets everybody lined up, makes sure everything’s right on the back end. So does Richard (LeCounte) and all those other guys. But J.R. is just a field general. He’s going to make sure everything is done right.”
Rice leads the Bulldogs with 71 tackles, with two tackles for loss, two pass break-ups and nine quarterback pressures.
Reed’s statistics certainly won’t blow anybody away. They’re solid, with 46 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, five pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. But racking up stats is not Reed’s primary purpose.
Knowledge of Georgia’s defense and knowing exactly where every player is supposed to be on any given play is why Reed is a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, according to coach Kirby Smart.
“He’s a leader of one of the best defenses in the country,” Smart said. “He’s the quarterback. He makes all the checks. He makes all the calls. You guys know the stats better than me, but he’s the one that sits back there and makes the decisions for a defense that has played really well this year.
“I’m proud of the way he's played. I think that part of getting awards is based on how your team does. I tell people all the time, if you want national awards, win football games.”
Joining Reed as a finalist for the Thorpe Award are LSU safety Grant Delpit and Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah.
All three players’ statistics are fairly comparable. Delpit has 50 tackles and five pass break-ups for the undefeated Tigers, while Okudah as 24 tackles, three interceptions, four pass break-ups and a forced fumble.
Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker won the Thorpe Award last year.
Reed said it would be nice to win it, too, but is not something he really had considered before.
“It’s not something I wrote down,” he said. “It’s something big to be a part of, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
No, Reed and Rice say they will continue to put all their energy in making sure Georgia’s defense continues to be in the right place at the right time. The Bulldogs entered the 12th game of the season having allowed only one rushing touchdown and 10.7 points per game.
That’s thanks in no small part to the weekly “skull sessions” of Reed and Rice.
“Together everyone achieves more -- TEAM,” Smart said, spouting one of the Bulldogs’ mantras. “When we do that, you get guys up for awards. We’ve got several guys out there for different awards. … J.R. is no doubt a product of that team success, and his hard work has brought that to him."