Georgia safety Shawn Williams sent shockwaves through the Bulldog Nation this week when he called the Bulldog defense “soft.”
On a Monday before Georgia’s most important game of the season, Williams took the time to lash out at teammates and the overall emotion—or lack thereof—in his fellow defenders.
“We’re not playing with any emotion right now. Period,” Williams said.
Williams’ call-to-arms should come as no surprise. Fans and critics have been dishing out similar complaints since Georgia—with a defense that ranked fifth nationally in 2011—allowed a combined 43 points to measly Buffalo and FAU.
Williams has been one of Georgia’s most physical, emotional defenders during his four seasons, and he leads the team in tackles this season with 51. Amarlo Herrera checks in at No. 2 on the tackles count (he has 50), and Williams advocated for Herrera to see more playing time.
“I can’t tell [the coaches] what to do, but I’d have Amarlo Herrera in the game more,” said Williams. “I wouldn’t bring him out. I’d leave him and (Alec) Ogletree in the game. That’s what I want. Me, as a player, I want to see Amarlo and Ogletree in the game at linebacker. I don’t want to see anybody else at the game at linebacker. I feel they are two guys that are going to go out and give you all they’ve got, no matter if they mess up or do right. I feel they’re going to get to the ball and tackle. That’s what we need.”
What Georgia’s defense really needed was a kick in the rear, and Williams’ comments may have done just that.
If there was division in the locker room or finger-pointing occurring behind closed doors, it’s visible now. There’s no hiding from it. Now, the defense—and the entire Georgia team—should be on a mission to prove Williams wrong.
After all, that was the senior’s plan. He knew what he was doing. What really resonates is the timing of Williams’ rant. His appearance before reporters Monday was only his second of the season; his first came a week ago. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Georgia breezed through the early portion of its schedule, despite obvious missed assignments and poor communication. Those days, the excuse was the inexperience of backups, called upon in place the gang of starters serving suspensions.
Then came South Carolina and a dismal, lopsided loss. But a bye-week would quickly fix the issues, right? Not exactly. The Bulldogs played as lifeless at Kentucky as they had in Columbia, S.C. two weeks prior.
Now, Williams delivers the wake-up call, just in the nick of time.
After the Carolina game, the Georgia fans, players and even head coach Mark Richt shelved their national title hopes. However, a win this weekend would likely land Georgia in the top five in the BCS, and the Miami talks would soon resume.
The annual showdown in Jacksonville is Georgia’s biggest rivalry game. This season, like many others recently, the matchup will decide who wins the SEC East and travels to Atlanta for the conference championship. The Bulldogs are also looking to defeat the Gators in consecutive seasons since 1988-89.
If the Bulldogs needed any extra motivation, they now have it, thanks to Williams.
In response to Williams’ rant, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham laid down the gauntlet.
“I think anytime you’re a competitor and you get challenged, you’re gonna man-up and be ready to perform,” said Grantham.
Now, comes Georgia’s chance to respond.
“I feel like that woke a lot of guys up,” All-American outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said of Williams’ comments.
Jones added, “It was a challenge for us to go out there and refocus ourselves—to get back on the right track and play the defense we’re known for playing. That’s just smashmouth football. Last year that’s the kind of football we played. That’s what Shawn is looking for—that team that we had last year that played, that ran to the ball, that hit people, that forced turnovers, that got sacks. This year, obviously we haven’t been that team. That’s what you want to get back to.”
This weekend is a good time to return to last year’s form. If the Bulldogs cannot find the swagger and emotion they played with a season ago, then it will be a long afternoon for Georgia.
The mantra for the 2012 season was “our team, our time, no regrets.”
Maybe Williams just needed to send a reminder.