Simply, Georgia is far and away the best team that the Jackets will face this season. In winning 11 games, the Bulldogs have won by an average margin of 27 points. They’ve trailed in only two games, once (against Tennessee) for less than two minutes.
“A lot of good players,” interim coach Brent Key said. “But it’s not just a collection of good players. It’s a collection of good players playing good football. They play sound, they play well together, they do a good job of game-planning and scheming week to week versus the different opponents, whether it be offense or defense.”
Despite having eight players drafted into the NFL in the spring, including five first-rounders, the Bulldogs defense has been unyielding, athletic and disciplined. Anchored by defensive tackle Jalen Carter, the Bulldogs defense has allowed 10 touchdowns this season (plus one scored via punt return). Of the 10, eight were scored by the opposition in the second half when Georgia led by at least two touchdowns, often much more.
Huge challenge on the line
Carter, a stunning mix of size, quickness and power, may be the best player on the field Saturday. He could be taken within the first five picks of the next NFL draft. Carter’s ability to stop the run and pressure the passer have played a major role in the Bulldogs ranking in the top five nationally in scoring defense, total defense, red-zone defense and third-down conversion percentage.
Given that he can line up at tackle or end, he’ll be a major test for all of the Jackets offensive line.
“He’s a tremendous player,” Key said. “You can put him in any scheme you want. He can play the block, he can go around the block, he can get on a run down thinking it’s pass or vice versa and still be able to make the play.”
Defensive end Sylvain Yondjouen has improved steadily this season and over the course of his career. Yondjouen, born and raised in Belgium, signed with Tech shortly after the hire of former coach Geoff Collins and has made strides this season with defensive line coach Larry Knight.
“Coach Knight really taught me personally on how it’s supposed to look like, and watching film,” Yondjouen said. “I think you can see it on the field. It translates from the beginning of the season to nearly to the end, where I feel like I just play better, knowing my technique better and pass rushing, too.”
Yondjouen has 20 tackles, including five for loss and 2.5 sacks, both career highs. It’s a lot to consider for the Belgian. He said he sometimes still is struck by the reality that his life has unfolded as it has.
“It’s just sitting in my room and thinking about,” he said. “I’m really here. I came from back home, just playing American football for fun with friends to playing at a D-I college and being on this field. This place is amazing. I’m really grateful for having this opportunity.”
Yondjouen is on track to graduate in December with a business administration degree. He took part in Senior Day festivities, but said he’ll wait to see how the coaching transition goes before making a stay-or-go decision on his future.
Where they come from
By measure of where players attended high school, no fewer than 55 of the 159 counties in Georgia will be represented by players on one or both of the rosters. They range from Catoosa County in the northwest (Georgia snapper Jonathan Washburn), to Camden County in the southeast corner (Tech running back Jamie Felix and Georgia offensive lineman Micah Morris).
The most well-represented county is, unsurprisingly, Fulton, with 29 players (22 from Tech), followed by Gwinnett (20, 14 from Tech), Cobb (10, five each), Chatham (five, four from Tech) and DeKalb (five, one from Tech).
At the team’s media availability Wednesday, running back Hassan Hall, linebacker Charlie Thomas and Yondjouen all spoke about Key and the change he has spurred within the team since being made interim.
Hall said that Key has helped the team prepare better, focusing on details.
“He prepares the best way, puts us in the best positions,” he said. “He’s a teacher, as well. He teaches us situations, like, always know the situation – situational football.”
Thomas saw his impact in a similar way.
“I think he’s done a great job just helping us focus on football and just getting better at what we do each and every day – just to focus on understanding how to win and just getting people ready to go out there and play at their highest level,” he said.
Yondjouen said that he has brought a different type of energy.
“It feels good,” he said. “Like before we get out on the field, halftime or the beginning of the game, everybody’s going to be excited and hyped up to go on the field, and I think that a big part is from his speech and what he says.”