Miller's season down and now up

ATHENS – For almost two seconds, the time it took to return his first collegiate interception 13 yards, Georgia's Brandon Miller felt like he was in high school again.

He had just made the game-clinching play against Ole Miss on Saturday, and he had his eyes on the end zone. In that instant, he was the five-star recruit from Miller County High School again, dominating the game.

And then? "Somebody caught me," he said.

So, in short, it was the nutshell version of Miller's senior season with the No. 12 Bulldogs – a little high, a little low. Miller was penciled in this preseason as the linchpin of the defense at middle linebacker, but was moved back to his traditional strong side spot before the season began. Three weeks later, against Western Carolina, he was out of the starting lineup entirely.

It was a dizzying slide for any player, particularly a senior who Coach Mark Richt called the "key to the defense" this offseason. Senior safety Kelin Johnson said it was "mind-boggling" to try to picture himself in that position.

Miller felt sorry for himself for "maybe 10 seconds when they called out the starting role," he said. After that, he played what Richt called the best special teams game of his career and recorded six tackles while backing up freshman linebacker Akeem Dent.

"Being a senior, it's all about leading," Miller said. "I'm not going to (complain) just because I'm not starting and get down on (Dent) just because he's starting. It's a team effort. I don't have no hard feelings toward nobody, whoever starts in my position. I'm still going to come back for my position. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to sit on the sideline and just watch."

The jolt to Miller's system may have been what he needed. He won back his starting job immediately and played with an attitude he's rarely shown during the second half against Ole Miss.

"I'm more of a quiet guy, doesn't hardly do anything, laid back all the time," Miller said. "I feel like when I play with emotion, my teammates just feed off that because they never see me getting crazy and throwing guys around and that."

Heaven only knows where the fire came from, Miller said.

"You've got to ask God," he said. "I couldn't even tell you. I wish I could tell you."

It will be the job of the Georgia coaching staff to help keep that fire stoked in the final seven games of the regular season.

"I think this year more than ever that he's really played with that passion like you would expect a senior to do," Richt said. "I think the coaches notice it, the players notice it and I'm just happy that it's happening right now."

Miller is sixth on the team with 20 tackles heading into Saturday's game against Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) in Knoxville, Tenn. Georgia is 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC heading into the game.

"They challenged Brandon," linebacker Marcus Washington said, "and he stepped up to the challenge."

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