ATHENS, Ga. -- He wasn't necessarily pleased with his season debut, but Josh Harvey-Clemons made a measurable impact in Georgia's 41-30 win against South Carolina last weekend.
Even on a play where he ran straight past Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw on a blitz, allowing Shaw to slip away for a 9-yard gain and a first down, he had the speed to wheel around and chase Shaw from behind and the wherewithal to pounce on the fumble when Bulldogs linebacker Amarlo Herrera knocked the ball out of Shaw's hands just before he hit the ground.
In a 24-all game and with South Carolina sitting at Georgia's 25-yard line minutes into the third quarter, Harvey-Clemons' fumble recovery ranks among the biggest defensive plays of the game.
“We just watched it again,” Herrera said Monday. “I forgot that he had blitzed and I was like, 'How did he beat everybody over there?' ”
Harvey-Clemons completed his first career start with five tackles and the fumble recovery, but he owned up to plenty of mistakes against the Gamecocks.
“I feel like I didn't have a good game, but I was just glad to be out there with my teammates,” Harvey-Clemons said. “I feel like I've got a lot or work to do myself to get better.”
Of course, he could have been out there a week earlier against Clemson had it not been for a marijuana-related incident in his dorm room over the summer that left him suspended for the opener. Georgia instead started three true freshmen -- Leonard Floyd, Brendan Langley and Tray Matthews -- in the nickelback and secondary spots while Harvey-Clemons, the team's defensive MVP of spring practice, watched from the sidelines in the 38-35 loss.
“It hurt me bad, man,” he said in the locker room after the South Carolina game, marking the first time he had spoken with reporters since the G-Day game. “I had been practicing the whole time in camp and stuff. I knew I had messed up and I let my teammates down. Just seeing that and the fact that we lost, it really just made me a little down on myself, but I feel like with this week and this game, we're just going to get better.”
Improvement might start by improving the pursuit angles he takes toward opposing ball-carriers and generally being in the right place more consistently. At least that's how Bulldogs coach Mark Richt viewed it upon rewatching the South Carolina game.
“He was a little rusty, no doubt,” Richt said. “Our safeties have got to take better angles when it comes to tackling. I think we've got to get better at that, and he's one of those guys. But I think he was just happy to be back playing, and I'm glad he is back.”
Needless to say, so are his defensive teammates, who allowed averages of 34 points and 460.5 yards per game in their first two outings of the season.
Herrera said Harvey-Clemons' hitting and playmaking abilities at outside linebacker and defensive back will come in handy for their young defense as it works to improve down the stretch.
“He's very diverse,” Herrera said of his 6-foot-5, 212-pound teammate. “Like he's so tall and long that you wouldn't think that he could run as good as he does and tackle as good as he does because he's so skinny. But he can make hits.”