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Curran a leader for Georgia defense
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ATHENS--Without that intuitive approach to playing linebacker, No. 3 Georgia might not have escaped from South Carolina with a victory last week.

It was Curran who jarred the ball loose when running back Mike Davis attempted to dive over the goal line midway through the fourth quarter. Bulldog cornerback Asher Allen fell on the ball in the end zone to help preserve the 14-7 win.

"I had no idea the ball came out," Curran said Tuesday night. "I was just running and trying to make a play. With the situation we were in, I didn’t want to give up on the play."

Such is life for Curran, a 19-year-old sophomore who leads Georgia in tackles (13 solo, 20 total), two sacks and three stops for negative yardage in his first full season as a starter.

Ask Georgia coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, and both men will tell you that Curran has emerged as an indispensable weapon.

When the Bulldogs (3-0) visit Arizona State (2-1) on Saturday, Curran might have more freedom than any other Georgia defender to make plays as he sees fit.

"It’s amazing to watch him because when a play goes laterally and there’s a flow of bodies going there, all of a sudden you just see a little dart," Richt said. "He just gets there faster than everybody else."

For Richt and Martinez, Curran plays the game so intuitively that they caution from "over-coaching" such talent.

When teaching defenders how to take on blocks, for example, coaches tell linebackers it’s critical to take a proper angle with one shoulder so they can free the hand on their other arm, the one "outside" the play, to make the tackle.

"Usually, if you go underneath that block, the back’s gone, but there’s sometimes when a guard might pull a little too wide and give too much space to where you can dart in there and get there," Richt said. "Now if you go through there and miss him, you’re in trouble."

Curran has shown the Bulldogs that he’s an exception to that rule.

"Certain players you will allow to just go get (the ball) if they see it because they just have a feel for when they can and when they can’t," Richt said. "If Rennie doesn’t feel like he can make that kind of read, then he’ll play it as fundamental as anyone we’ve got."

Martinez calls Curran a "great program kid" who wants to please his coaches and earn the respect of everyone — teammates, fans, opponents, reporters and those who vote in the polls.

"He wants to win for Georgia, in a bad way, and he doesn’t really talk about it that much," Martinez said. "He leads by results, and that’s the fun part, because when guys are sitting there watching him (in the film room), it’s pretty exciting."

Curran debuted as a starter in last year’s 42-30 victory over Florida and he recorded 36 solo stops and three sacks over his next six games.

Before promoting Curran, Martinez and linebackers coach John Jancek knew he could handle any assignment against the run, but they still needed proof that the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder could handle coverage responsibilities adequately.

Curran gave them all they needed to see with persistent film study and by making the right reads in practice. Most of this extra work was new to Curran, who like most high school standouts was accustomed to using his athleticism to overpower and outrun the competition.

"I’d never really had the thinking of being a big pass stopper," Curran said. "That really just came with time. Watching film and seeing different formations and different offenses and quarterbacks, I’ve just become more comfortable over time. At first, that was one thing that really held me back. Being in man coverage or being in zone, knowing where to be at on the boot action and then being too aggressive on the run."

Curran’s performance against South Carolina, which included six tackles, one sack and two quarterback pressures, earned him the Southeastern Conference’s defensive player of the week award, but the kid who grew up in the Atlanta suburb of Snellville wants much more.

"The sky’s the limit, but it’s a matter of how much work we put in, so for me it’s how hard I’m going to work when nobody’s looking," Curran said. "How much time I put in in the film room when we’re not together as a defense. How much time I put in in the weight room. That’s going to determine a lot about how I perform this season because I knew our coaches will put us in a position to succeed."

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