ATHENS — Yin and yang. Night and day. LeCounte and Reed.
That third duo might not be as famous, but they bring the same element of balance to the Georgia secondary. Now they’re preparing for their biggest challenge yet: leading the Bulldogs into the SEC Championship game against LSU and one of the nation’s best passing attacks.
The numbers over the course of the year are staggering. Quarterback Joe Burrow is completing over 78% of his passes for 4,366 yards and 44 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions. Receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson have both exceeded 1,000 yards.
“Everything you want a quarterback to be,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said of Burrow. “His accuracy is off the charts. The scheme he plays in is perfect for him. He’s got really good players around him. There’s just a lot there.”
Burrow is fourth in the country at 10.89 yards per attempt. Translation: the Tigers like to push the ball down the field.
That’s where Richard LeCounte and J.R. Reed come in. They will play a critical role on Saturday in preventing big plays from the LSU offense, although Smart emphasized they won’t be asked to do anything they haven’t done all year.
“If they’re in empty, the safeties are probably going to have to cover somebody,” Smart said. “If they’re not in empty, the safeties are going to have to be good run fitters, they’re going to have to be box players. They’re going to have to do the things we’ve done.”
The duo brings experience — 77 combined games played at Georgia, plus Reed’s 13 games played at Tulsa in 2015. But more than that, they bring a pair of differing personalities that complement each other well in the Bulldog secondary.
Reed is the quiet one. He goes about his business without much talking and does his job effectively, earning a reputation as one of the surest tacklers in the Southeastern Conference.
He’s also extremely cerebral, knowing plays and formations like the back of his hand and relaying that information to his defensive teammates.
“That’s what I spend the majority of my game doing, majority in practice, getting guys lined up and just alert them of little things that are going to happen before the ball’s snapped and pre-snap motions and things like that,” Reed said.
LeCounte, by comparison, is the more energetic one. He brings the juice to practice and games through his enthusiasm, whether it’s being a locker room comedian or just joking around with teammates who he thinks are having a rough day.
On the field, the Riceboro native is one of the most physical defenders the Bulldogs have. He likes to charge downhill and lay bone-rattling hits on opponents. Cornerback Eric Stokes put it simply: “If you see ball, you’re going to see Rich.”
“Once he gets in your head and he sees that he’s in your head, it’s over with,” offensive lineman Solomon Kindley said. “After he talks to you, hits you, bangs you up a few times and you get up slow, he’s got you.”
LeCounte and Reed are undoubtedly two of the defense’s most prominent leaders. But they differ from their teammates in one key way: they never come off the field.
The Bulldogs make it a point to rotate defenders in and out to keep players fresh. But that doesn’t happen with the safeties. They stay in for the duration until the game is over or decided.
“It’s like a quarterback,” Smart said. “The guy in the back behind everybody has to make decisions on what goes on in front of them. You want the guys making the best decisions possible, they get the most reps at that. We play the best players. We put the guys out there that give us the best chance to win.”
Now, in their 27th game starting together as a safety tandem, LeCounte and Reed are facing possibly their most strenuous test yet. Perhaps the closest comparison is the Alabama offense the Bulldogs faced in last year’s SEC title game. LeCounte and Reed both had an interception and the team surrendered 246 passing yards, but ultimately squandered a 14-point second half lead in a 35-28 loss.
One year later, Georgia is back in the same spot against a similarly explosive offense. If the Bulldogs want a different result this time around, they will have to look to their dependable yin and yang safety tandem to stifle Burrow and the LSU aerial attack.