Georgia already was showing the signs of having a much improved defense when a talented playmaker melded back into the mix a month ago.
UGA Sports Communications
Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree has developed into the player coaches and teammates hoped he would be.
Alec Ogletree picked up where he left off when he created buzz this preseason.
Since his return against Florida on Oct. 29, the inside linebacker has become the player Georgia expected he would be.
“I feel like I’m playing better,” Ogletree said.
The sophomore missed six games with a broken metatarsal bone in his right foot, but has led the team with 33 tackles during the last five games, six more than outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and seven more than safety Shawn Williams.
“I missed the game so much, it was just an eye-opener for me,” said Ogletree, who moved from safety this spring. “I never had to sit out before and when I did that I was like, ‘Man, I miss this really bad.’ I just tried to come back and work really hard and play full speed.”
Ogletree will come full circle Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship game in the Georgia Dome against top-ranked LSU.
That’s where he sustained the foot injury Sept. 3 in the first quarter of a 35-21 loss to Boise State. He said he played about 14 snaps, going out after the Broncos’ first scoring drive.
“I was just kind of devastated from a personal standpoint, but I knew the guys that we had together in the locker room would be able to get everything together and just step up,” Ogletree said.
The injury will probably keep Ogletree from getting All-SEC consideration like Jarvis Jones, Bacarri Rambo and Brandon Boykin, but Ogletree is fine sharing the headlines.
“Just from working in the offseason, I knew that if we all played together as a whole, there would be spotlights everywhere,” Ogletree said. “I’m just coming back off an injury. I’m just trying to contribute anyway I can.”
The 6-foot-3, 236-pound Newnan native has caused three fumbles — most on the team — and even lined up at outside linebacker against Kentucky to rush the quarterback.
“He’s got a motor,” inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. “He has that safety speed with a linebacker body. He does everything that coach O (Kirk Olivadotti) wants him to do and that’s the best thing about having him. He’s fast, he makes plays and he just hustles. When you have a guy like that, you know if you just turn it back to him at linebacker he’s going to make the play.”
Since Ogletree’s return, Georgia improved from 18th nationally in rushing defense to sixth, from sixth in total defense to fifth and from 27th in scoring defense to sixth.
“Without a doubt, we became better with him,” coach Mark Richt said. “I don’t know if you could prove anything statistically, but we’re a better defense with him I can promise you.”
Inside linebacker Mike Gilliard, second on the team with 63 tackles, said there’s ongoing tackle competitions between him and Ogletree on which player can get more.
“Usually it’s game-by-game,” Gilliard said. “The last two games he’s been winning.”
So has Georgia, which has extended a five-game winning streak to 10 since Ogletree’s return.
“He’s a big hitter, sideline to sideline type player,” Jones said. “He brings the energy to our defense.”