It took the Georgia defense exactly one play to prove its capability on Saturday.
Deandre Baker’s interception on Louisiana-Lafayette’s first play from scrimmage on Saturday set the tone for the Bulldogs for the rest of the day. The defense swarmed the Ragin’ Cajuns throughout Saturday’s game and forced four turnovers in Georgia’s 35-21 victory.
The defenders posed real problems for Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Anthony Jennings, who threw three interceptions. That along with a forced fumble recovered by Lorenzo Carter helped the Bulldogs fend off a Ragin’ Cajuns team that had chances to keep things interesting.
The multiple turnovers illustrated how Saturday’s showing was from the effort of the entire defense, as Georgia’s four forced turnovers were created by four different Bulldogs.
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“I think (the turnovers) are essential,” defensive back Aaron Davis said. “That's our biggest emphasis as a defense, to get as many turnovers as we can just to help out our offense and do our part and what we can. Turnovers, any time we can get them, are definitely huge for the team.”
Baker wasted little time in delivering the Bulldogs’ first interception of the afternoon. Jennings fired a pass deep downfield on the Ragin’ Cajuns’ opening possession hoping to test the Georgia secondary early. The plan backfired, as Baker jumped up to deflect the ball and tip it back to himself. He shuffled past would-be tacklers 28 yards downfield to the Louisiana-Lafayette 42-yard line.
“The stadium was rocking once I made that interception,” Baker said. “He ran a nice route, but we both went up for the jump ball and I made a good play.”
Davis dealt the Ragin’ Cajuns another blow two drives later. With Louisiana-Lafayette nearing midfield for the first time, Jennings avoided the incoming Georgia pass rush and hurled a pass down the right sideline. Davis beat Louisiana-Lafayette receiver Michael Jacquet to the ball and caught the pass for his second interception of 2016.
Davis attributed part of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ passing issues to the wind, which he said played an important role in his pick.
“When they were throwing (with the wind), we knew the ball would travel a little bit further,” Davis said. “I'm running to go get the ball, and it looks like it just keeps sailing. I just went up and tried to high point and get the ball out of the air.”
Louisiana-Lafayette’s efforts were hindered again by linebacker Reggie Carter with about five minutes left before halftime. With Louisiana-Lafayette only trailing by two scores, Carter made a heads-up play on backup quarterback Dion Ray and knocked the ball out of his grasp. Linebacker Lorenzo Carter quickly grabbed the loose ball to add another tally to the turnover total.
Malkom Parrish added to it with under one minute to go in the first half. Jennings tried another deep throw into Georgia territory. Parrish was able to run down the ball and beat the intended receiver, successfully fending off another threat for points.
“We thought they might try to go after Malkom,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “Two of those balls were thrown at Malkolm, and one of them he made a great play on. I think the other one (Davis) made a play on.”
As big as the interceptions and the fumble recovery were for Georgia, the Bulldogs’ defense also handled itself well on fourth down. The Ragin’ Cajuns tried three times to move the chains instead of punting. All three times they were stopped short of the line-to-gain.
Smart again credited the Bulldogs’ defensive staff for building a hunger among the defenders to get the football. Now it’s just up to the offense, which had two turnovers in the victory, to follow the defense’s example.
“(Defensive coordinator Mel) Tucker does a great job preaching the turnovers,” Smart said. “There was one day this week that I thought that we had more turnovers in a practice than I've ever seen in my whole coaching career because they just attack the ball and got after it. They're buying into that part, but now we've got to hang on the ball on the other side of the ball so they don't get those.”