It is almost here. Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs will travel 33 miles south of the Florida state line to Jacksonville to play the Florida Gators. Simply put, this game means a little bit more to Dawg faithful than any other game on the schedule.
Both schools field impressive teams from top to bottom, but when the No. 5 Bulldogs lace up their cleats to take on the No. 8 Gators there will be a game within the game: A former five-star recruit, once a Dawg turned Gator.
Brenton Cox vs. Jamaree Salyer & Warren McClendon
While no player on either side needs any extra motivation to get up for this game, edge rusher Brenton Cox doesn’t need to look very far for it. Cox was touted as the No. 3 defensive end in his graduating class of 2018 per 247 Sports and committed to spending his college years playing between the hedges in Sanford Stadium for Georgia.
Cox was dismissed from the program in the fall of 2019 for a variety of reasons, though none are concrete. He was arrested in April of the same year for possession of marijuana, something that certainly hurt him in the eyes of head coach Kirby Smart. In addition, the arrivals of talented edge rushers Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson sent Cox free-falling down the depth chart. Cox transferred to Florida in August, 2019 and sat out all last year while redshirting, per NCAA transfer rules.
The move to Florida has given Cox new life and coming into this game he has the third-most pressures of any SEC defender with 21. He has lived in the backfield this year despite only having one sack, and it will be up to tackles Jamaree Salyer and Warren McClendon to stop him.
Cox will be one of, if not the best, edge rushers these two will face this year. He stands 6-foot-5 and is a muscular 250 pounds. Off the line, he can beat blockers in many ways, but often approaches his pass-rush snaps by walking the lineman down before using his unique blend of power and balance to beat him inside. He can certainly go through players, but what stands out the most is when he can get tackles moving side to side before using his speed to secure inside leverage and achieve a clear path to the quarterback.
Cox has the ability to change this game with just a few plays and it will require a group effort from both Salyer and McClendon to neutralize him. Often times with star edge rushers, if enough successful pass-protection reps can be strung together, they will lose confidence and fade out of the game. The expectation is that offensive coordinator Todd Monken will scheme runs away from Cox, or at the very least allot a variation of combo blocks with running-back and tight-end chips, or straight up double teams in order to ensure he will not blow up the run game.
However, for the majority of the pass protection snaps Saturday, it is not unreasonable to think that Cox will face single coverage. Salyer is an established player who has faced his share of elite pass rushers, and while Cox will likely beat him on some reps, he has the ability to hold Cox in check. He has the hip flexibility to prevent Cox from bending around the edge and has displayed the necessary footwork needed to stay on balance when Cox tries to bob and weave through the line.
Some of the most game-changing snaps will come when Cox flips sides to take on redshirt freshman McClendon. McClendon has had numerous highs this season and has already played an impressive Alabama front seven. However, young tackles are often wild cards in games like these. The Georgia coaching staff will certainly give him help, but McClendon will have to win his one-on-one opportunities in order to prevent a game-changing play from Cox.