With the critics of Georgia's defense, aggressively massaging scoring statistics, it is likely that few are aware of Justin Houston's fine performance in a five-loss season which ended with the high of neutralizing Georgia Tech's option game and followed by the nadir of three coaches being told their contracts would not be renewed.
Statistics don't always tell the complete story, and in Houston's case, he often rendered a masterful performance but toiled in anonymity for the most part. His coach, Jon Fabris, was concerned that Houston would not be recognized for his productive play with a curious statistic that worked against him. The Southeastern Conference only ranks players in its weekly statistics when they play in 75% of their team's games. Suspended for the first two games and held out of the Tennessee Tech game (injury) when he likely would have had enhanced opportunity, Houston finally reached the 75 percent threshold following the finale with Tech.
He was second in the SEC in total sacks (7 ) and second in tackles for loss (15) but played in three less games than defensive ends who did not miss any games. When you review his per-game average, he led the SEC in sacks per game (.083) and also led in tackles for loss per game (1.67).
A native of Statesboro, Houston influenced the outcome of the Tech game considerably and believes it was his best outing from an assignment standpoint, which was critical to slowing down the Yellow Jackets' triple option. He finished the night with one solo tackle past the line of scrimmage, five assists, two tackles for loss and half sack.
"It was a very satisfying game," Houston said. "Coach Fab put in extra time with us (defensive ends) with understanding their option, and we were determined to be competitive. People kept telling me that Tech would beat us again because we couldn't stop the option. We wanted to prove that we could."
Fabris, who believed that Houston deserved to make All-SEC because of his consistency and productivity, was concerned that he might not make any honors. After all, early on, Houston's name did not show up in the weekly SEC statistics.
In the final game at Tech, Houston did not get into a three-point stance, choosing to play his end position in an upright stance.
"I felt that I could react better and that I could see what was happening," he said. "In high school, I saw a lot of the option and played standing up."
Houston's approach to playing his position is that -- at the snap -- he never thinks about sacking the QB. His first objective is to get past the defensive tackle.
"When that happens, my eyes light up," he said. "Then I can go full speed to the(QB)."
Most defensive ends know that sack opportunity comes, in most cases, on third down and long yardage situations. Houston, as Fabris taught him, understands he had to work harder on first and second downs to create those moments.
It is not lost on Houston that something which was not good for the team, created a favorable situation for him. Last spring when most of Georgia's defensive ends were sidelined with injuries, Houston got in more reps than ever before.
"That helped me a lot," he said. "I learned a lot of football last spring."
A lapse in judgment which led to the suspension for breaking a team rule, turned out to be a motivating influence for Houston.
"I felt that I had let (everyone) down," Houston said. "Coach Fab told me I could turn a negative into a positive by working hard. I was determined to make up for (it)."
Houston, who was picked on the coaches All-SEC 2nd team, will be leading Georgia's defense against one of the Big 12's most productive quarterbacks in Texas' A&M's Jerrod Johnson in the Independence Bowl game in Shreveport on Dec. 28th.