Editor’s note: Each day this week, we will look back at a memorable moment or series of events from Georgia’s 2012 season. Today we recall safety Shawn Williams’ pointed comments about the defense’s poor performance that many Bulldogs credit for reversing their fortunes.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Out of all the key moments in Georgia’s season, perhaps one of the most important took place in the second-floor atrium of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, which houses the Georgia football program.
Two days after yet another uneven defensive performance allowed lowly Kentucky to nearly upset the Bulldogs, senior safety Shawn Williams vented to reporters about his disgust at the defense’s soft play. That sentiment had been circulating within the locker room and meeting rooms, but Williams made it public and rankled some of his teammates in the process.
He also provided the spark that many Bulldogs credit for reversing the team’s fortunes, as a completely different Georgia defense took the field that weekend against then-unbeaten Florida. Not only did Georgia keep the Gators out of the end zone for the first time since 1988 in a series that the Gators have largely dominated for the last 20 years, but they went on to hold Florida and each of their next four opponents to their season lows in scoring.
We’ll obviously never know whether such a defensive turnaround would have occurred had Williams kept his criticisms within the confines of the locker room. His teammates and coaches believe that was exactly the motivational stroke that the defense needed, however, as evidenced by teammates electing him as defensive team captain and coaches presenting him with a leadership award at last Saturday’s team gala.
Williams had not spoken to reporters since preseason practice until that Oct. 22 interview and has appeared for interviews only once since, but the results speak for themselves in this case.
He was one of the veteran leaders of a defense full of future NFL players that was not playing to its potential. And after speaking his mind, that group played with a fire that had been lacking up to that point, helping the Bulldogs claim a second straight SEC East title.
All of the other moments we’ve featured in this recap came on the field, but Williams’ speech -- because of the improved play it seemed to inspire -- was every bit as valuable. For that reason, it most certainly belongs on this list alongside the key touchdowns and defensive stands that helped the Bulldogs push within an eyelash of a spot in the BCS championship game.