LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Southeastern Conference won't announce its Players of the Week until Monday afternoon, but based on Justin Houston's performance in Saturday's 44-31 win over Kentucky, the Statesboro native should get some serious consideration.
Yes, the Wildcats gobbled up 423 yards of offense against the Bulldogs, but don't blame Houston who was a one-Dawg wrecking crew.
Not only did Houston record 2.5 more sacks to push his league-leading total to nine, but he also forced a fumble, recovered another and even broke up a pass - all in the first half.
"Justin, he was fired up ready to play," head coach Mark Richt said. He knew there would be a good chance to get some sacks due to the nature of their offense, the amount of time they like to throw the football and Coach (Todd) Grantham kind of allowed those guys to rush the passer. Coach (Rodney) Garner does a nice job teaching technique, so everybody deserves some credit there, but Justin, you could just see the look in his eyes. He was ready to play hard."
It didn't take Houston long to get started.
On the game's third play, Houston bulled his way past Kentucky right tackle Billy Joe Murphy and crashed into quarterback Mike Hartline with DeAngelo Tyson, forcing a fumble which Cornelius Washington recovered at the UK 23-yard line.
Moments later, Washaun Ealey scored the first of his Bulldog-record five rushing touchdowns to give Georgia 7-0 lead.
"We talk turnovers all the time," Houston said. "If you want to be a great defense, you've got to cause turnovers. We want to be a great defense."
Houston wasn't done.
With the Bulldogs leading 21-3, Houston recovered a fumble by Donald Russell at the Wildcat 8-yard line, setting up another Ealey score before batting down a Hartline pass during Kentucky's ensuing possession.
"That's the best rush we've seen, no question about that," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "One of our offensive keys to the game was we felt like we had to handle the edge rushers. They've given a lot of people problems. We had to use some chip (blocks) to chip our way out to give the guys some help."
Unfortunately for Kentucky, it rarely worked.
"You can't use it all the time, because you won't get some of the underneath control guys out free sometimes," Phillips said. "But the times that we didn't, especially the first time, the first pass we tried - first drop-back pass we tried, they got pressure on us and caused the fumble. But this is by far the best pass rush we've seen."
Wide receiver A.J. Green said Houston's performance shouldn't come as a surprise.
"I watch that dude every day, every game. He's showing out. He might be one of the best at his position," Green said. "After practice, all the stuff he does after practice, it doesn't surprise me at all."
Apparently though, after-practice-sessions are nothing new for Houston. He's actually been doing that for a while.
"I've been doing that for the past two years. I feel I'm cheating myself if I'm not out there putting the work in," Houston said. "If I'm going to watch a certain amount of film, I've got to be willing to do a certain amount of work after practice, too."
Incidentally, Houston said he can still get a lot better.
That's just what he's going to try to do.
"I know for us to be a great defense I have to play great," he said. "That's one of the things Coach Grantahm and I talk about. I can be a whole lot better. I'm starting to get there, but I've got to keep working."
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