JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter entered 2022 as one of the nation’s top running backs, but missed the Bulldogs’ wins over Auburn and Vanderbilt after suffering an MCL sprain against Missouri. Carter’s work coming back from injury resulted in his return against Florida on Saturday, and while his stats didn’t jump off the page, he did more than his share to help the Bulldogs get the win.
Carter was limited to third and fourth downs against the Gators, but he maximized his reps by routinely causing havoc. Carter pressured the quarterback Anthony Richardson throughout the contest, and while his stats weren’t nearly as flashy — he finished with 1 hit in a 42-20 victory — he was instrumental in the Bulldogs holding off the Gators for their eighth win of the season.
“It was great that he fought to get back. He was rehabbing to get back,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart he said. “He wanted to play. He loves this team. It’s important to him. In this day and age when some kids don’t care about the team, he cares about the team. He wanted to play. He took the role that we wanted him to take and hopefully that he will continue to be healthy.
“Look, we need him. We’re missing some depth guys up front. As we play more snaps, we battle and that’s where it showed in the second half.”
Carter was a big question mark for the Bulldogs leading up to Saturday’s rivalry game, but he went through pregame warmups with the team without noticeable limitations. Carter didn’t start the game for the Bulldogs – Georgia ran out of defensive tackles Nazir Stackhouse and Zion Logue along with the defensive end Tramel Walthour to open the game — but was regularly involved in the contest once the Gators were on third down.
Carter played his part, even if he wasn’t making tackles left and right, and Georgia’s defense made sure to start the action. Florida had four consecutive three-and-outs to open the game, opening the door for Georgia to take a 28-3 lead.
Florida battled back with 17 straight points to open the third quarter. Just when it looked like the Gators might have a chance to strike in the second half, Carter stepped up and closed the book on their comeback.
Georgia’s offense pushed its lead back to 15 by the time the game entered the fourth quarter and the Gators were looking for an answer. Florida reached its own 49-yard line before facing fourth-and-six, which saw Carter go just past the Gators’ left sideline and get a hand on Florida’s quarterback. Anthony Richardsonwhich forced Richardson to scramble for pockets.
Georgia inside linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson at which point he reached Richardson and forced him to the ground. At that point, Richardson fired the ball out of bounds, leading to a significant turnover on downs.
A touchdown by Georgia’s offense on its ensuing drive effectively put the game away.
“[Getting Jalen back] it was quite big. We didn’t run him full throttle today, but in the future when we get him back, we’ll get into a role again,” said Dumas-Johnson, who had 7 tackles, 5 quarterback hurries and 1.0 tackles for loss. “I think he had a part of the game that he affected, on third downs and things of that nature — second downs and third downs. When he got there, you knew he was in by what he did.”
Dumas-Johnson talked about how Georgia was able to generate pressure Saturday, explaining that the Bulldogs didn’t get many sacks — they finished with three, two of which came on Florida’s final drive — but that they limited Richardson to 18-37 passing. Dumas-Johnson said Georgia’s goal was to pressure Richardson and not allow him time to search the entire field; even though the sophomore quarterback made a few plays on the Bulldogs’ defense, their mission was a success overall.
Perhaps the best part of Carter’s performance Saturday was how he felt during the event. Smart explained that Carter was comfortable going through the pregame — the performance that followed certainly showed that.
“We tried not to put him in a situation where he’s pounding, but they pound all the time. It was third down and we knew there was a threat that he was going to run it,” Smart said. “I have to look at the tape because I don’t know if he made any plays, but his volume was huge for Naz and Sion at first and second.