Bear Alexander talks decision to leave Georgia for USC: ‘It’s just more snaps’

Georgia defensive lineman Bear Alexander (99) clashes with LSU offensive lineman Anthony Bradford (75) during the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 3, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia defensive lineman Bear Alexander (99) clashes with LSU offensive lineman Anthony Bradford (75) during the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 3, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

LOS ANGELES – Bear Alexander could’ve been an integral part of Georgia’s defensive line as the team attempts a national championship threepeat.

He could’ve been next behind Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, Jalen Carter and others who’ve immortalized their names in red and black lore.

He could’ve joined his peers of Georgia’s 2022 recruiting class, like pass rusher Mykel Williams, linebacker Jalon Walker and safety Malaki Starks, in headlining the new wave.

But Alexander passed. Rather than follow others’ path, he opted to forge his own.

In April, Alexander – a surprise transfer portal addition – left Georgia for Southern California after playing 12 games for the national champions during his freshman season. Rather than be a rotated piece along a stacked Bulldogs defensive front, he saw the chance to be immediately featured in USC’s retooled defense.

“It’s just more snaps,” Alexander told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution following USC’s first scrimmage Tuesday. “Being able to be on the field, get a significant amount of snaps, and come out here and hunt.

“I’m super excited. Hell, I’m a Trojan.”

Back east, rumors have swirled around Alexander’s departure. NIL and the financial component have been cited, as is usually the case in today’s climate. The AJC asked Alexander how much financial motives factored into his decision.

“I mean, it didn’t really play a part,” he said. “I wanted to come here. This is where I wanted to be. I’m here now and we’re looking forward to the season.”

With Alexander emphasizing playing time, did he feel he wouldn’t have logged his desired number of snaps this season at Georgia?

“I was going to have the playing time; just getting a reset and getting myself in a (preferred) situation,” he said. Alexander has stated he’s felt USC’s defense would allow him to show more versatility as a three-down lineman, whereas Georgia was more limiting. The Bulldogs have preached patience for their younger defensive linemen, and their rich depth allows them to rotate players and keep them fresh throughout a game.

As for what Alexander will take with him from Athens: “I learned how to be physical. This game is physical. Just coming here and showing that physicality, I want to pass it on.” Alexander singled out defensive linemen Carter, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Zion Logue as teammates who furthered his development.

It was difficult to imagine Georgia losing a touted player on its defense right now. The Bulldogs have constantly sent front-seven talent to the NFL under coach Kirby Smart, especially over the past two years. One could argue there’s no better place to play for those athletes given Georgia’s recent track record, from a collegiate standpoint and a professional-aspirations one.

Alexander played 163 snaps for Georgia last season, recording nine tackles and two sacks, including one in the national championship. He drew considerable interest in the transfer portal, telling ESPN: “Not to brag on myself, but everyone wants the Big Bear.”

It’s that bravado that’s swiftly endeared him to his Trojan teammates. USC coaches and defenders lauded Alexander as an individual who energizes others and demands toughness.

“Bear is a talented guy,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Jack Sullivan said. “Pretty quick and explosive. He sheds blocks really nicely. Just get him consistent and more comfortable with the plays and get him more reps.”

Alexander is accustomed to change. The Texas native went through five high schools before signing with Georgia. He’d also decommitted from the Bulldogs at one point during the recruiting process. USC coach Lincoln Riley tried getting Alexander to Oklahoma when he was coaching the Sooners.

“We liked the kid’s personality,” Riley said. “We enjoyed being around him. He has a unique story and background and he’s had to persevere through a lot. I’ve always respected him that way.

“(When he was) young(er), you could see the twitchiness, but in a big body. You felt like he could really develop into something. He’s certainly gotten bigger, gotten a little more fundamentally sound since we were recruiting him in high school. But I think, at least early in his career, has started to develop into what you thought he could be at that point. I’m not surprised to see him on the path to becoming a really good player with a high ceiling.

“I probably wouldn’t have believed you at the time if you told me I’d be coaching him at USC, but here we are.”

In the final year of the four-team playoff, USC is among the few schools potentially capable of challenging Georgia thanks to Riley and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams. But it must improve its defense, which was fruitless in Riley’s debut season.

For as marvelous an offensive mind as he is, Riley’s defenses have underwhelmed (and in his 13 career losses, opponents have averaged almost 44 points per game). It’s why he’s yet to win a playoff game despite his successes. In USC’s three losses last season, it surrendered 43, 47 and 46 points, respectively. USC won five games in which the defense allowed at least 27 points thanks to its offense.

The Trojans’ hope is their resources and recruiting ability will help them build a menacing unit - or at least one good enough to complement the offense - ahead of their move to the Big 10 next year.

USC expects Alexander to play an important role in that.

“He fits very, very well just because of his skill set,” Trojans defensive line coach Shaun Nua said. “We’re challenging him to be consistent and show up every down. Explosiveness (stands out). He’s a very explosive young man. He loves contact. He loves the violent part of the game.”

Alexander would welcome encountering Georgia later this year; “hopefully,” he said. That would likely mean the Trojans are within a win or two wins of a national championship.

“The natty (was my most memorable experience at Georgia),” Alexander said. “Hopefully I get that same experience here.”