ATHENS, Ga. — Bright spots were few and far between for Georgia during Saturday's 26-24 escape of Nicholls State, but Trenton Thompson did his best to prevent the biggest upset in college football history.
The 6-foot-4, 309-pound sophomore defensive tackle had his name frequently called out at Sanford Stadium, racking up 11 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. Thompson headed a defense that was mostly good against the Colonels, as the Bulldogs held the Football Championship Subdivision foe to 236 yards.
"Trenton practices hard, and one thing that's been evident to me is guys who practice real hard usually play good," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. "We need more guys to do what Trenton is doing. Trenton is athletic and is one of our more athletic big men, and that's the hardest thing to find in recruiting."
Georgia (2-0), which dropped from No. 9 to No. 16 in the Associated Press poll following Saturday's scare, opens Southeastern Conference play this week with a trip to Missouri (1-1).
Thompson arrived at Georgia last summer as the highest-rated signee in program history, with 247Sports.com ranking him as the nation's No. 1 overall prospect in the 2015 class. He made six starts last year and tallied 25 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss but quickly became one of the defensive front's leaders following the departures of Josh Dawson, James DeLoach, Sterling Bailey and Chris Mayes.
"It's not that much different," Thompson said. "I'm just going to keep listening to my coaches and keep taking coaching better."
Thompson insists he looked at the Colonels like any other opponent, even though the Bulldogs entered Saturday as 55-point favorites. The biggest upset in college football history in terms of point spreads occurred in 2007, when Stanford, a 41-point underdog, stunned Southern California 24-23.
Georgia averted the embarrassment by converting a pair of third downs in the final three minutes to run out the clock.
"We can't have these kinds of performances," Smart said. "When you perform without passion, energy and enthusiasm, that's what can happen. It's disappointing, but it's something we'll be able to learn from."
Before Saturday, the Bulldogs had defeated every FCS foe by at least 20 points, and they had whipped their previous seven by at least 30.
Smart evoked Mike Krzyzewski in his news conference after the game, saying the legendary Duke basketball coach always tries to be positive after a struggling performance and always pushes players harder after rousing wins. He then used a military reference to describe his ongoing challenge.
"When you turn around a battleship, you turn it real slow," Smart said. "It slowly turns.
"We have a lot of younger people out there. When I look out there and see (freshmen) David Marshall, Tyler Clark, Michail Carter, Julian Rochester, Charlie Woerner and Isaac Nauta — it's scary to think about guys like that being out there in clutch situations, which they're going to be throughout conference play."
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