- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- For once, both of the Ogletree brothers got to enjoy the spotlight in Georgia’s 37-10 win against Ole Miss on Saturday.
Their dual role in Georgia’s victory -- Zander Ogletree scored his first career touchdown, while Alec Ogletree recorded a safety, led the Bulldogs in tackles and skied for his first career interception -- created a memory that both players can cherish.
“Me and my brother have been playing together since we grew up,” said Zander, a reserve fullback who started for the second time in his career. “And just for us to come to Georgia and play together and just to have a great game like we did, the whole team, it’s a blessing. I think my mom and dad, they just were pushing us and pushing us to play hard and play physical, just play to the best of your ability and play with your heart.”
That philosophy worked well for both brothers on Saturday in what surely ranks as the best collective performance of their careers. And with the No. 6 Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1 SEC) just a win away from their second straight SEC East title, the Ogletrees proved that both of them can contribute to Georgia’s push toward another division championship and a possible BCS bowl berth.
Since the moment they arrived on the UGA campus, Zander was viewed as the throw-in -- as the role player who would always play second fiddle to his high-profile twin brother. That had certainly been the case this season as Alec, whom ESPN’s Scouts Inc. rates as the No. 17 overall prospect in the upcoming NFL draft, was back to his tackle-making ways once he returned from suspension while Zander barely saw the field until last week’s game against Florida.
But when starter Merritt Hall went down with an ankle injury on the first play against the Gators, an opportunity arose for Zander to play and he seized it immediately. He caught a 10-yard pass for a first down upon entering the game and capitalized on far and away the most playing time he has ever received by blocking effectively and grabbing two passes.
“He’s been biding his time and just waiting for his name to be called. And when his name was called, he took advantage of the opportunity he’d been given,” Alec said. “I know he’s very excited about the opportunity to be playing now, actually, and I’m happy for him.”
With Hall still out against Ole Miss, Zander scored his first career touchdown on Saturday -- an 8-yard burst up the middle to cap a third-quarter scoring drive -- on his first carry of the season. And he continued to play a role in the passing game with two more catches for 12 yards.
In fact, his four catches in the last two games are more than some of the Bulldogs’ wideouts -- like the team’s leading receiver, Tavarres King, who has just one catch in the last two weeks.
“Just for me to get more catches than a receiver, I’ll have to tell them that to bring them down to earth,” he joked.
That it would, considering that Zander didn’t play at all in Georgia’s first six games and had touched the ball only five times in his first two-plus seasons as a Bulldog prior to the Florida game. Despite that inexperience as a ball handler, he showed off soft hands in the last two games after naturally beginning to wonder whether he’d ever receive an opportunity to contribute again.
“I did have that thought, but at the same time, I kept working,” Zander said. “It made me work harder, actually. It motivated me because I knew what I had to do to get that position back. And just for me to keep working, I finally got here and I feel like it’s a blessing. It’s a dream come true.”
To no one’s surprise, Alec continued to post statistics that confirm why he has become a sought-after NFL commodity. With 11 tackles -- including a sack and two tackles for a loss -- he led the Bulldogs in tackles for the eighth time in the last 10 games in which he appeared. And with 50 tackles this season, he is already fourth on the team despite missing the first four games on suspension.
He added to his resume by soaring to intercept a Bo Wallace pass at midfield in the second quarter on Saturday and then notching Georgia’s first safety of the season by tossing Rebels running back Jeff Scott to the ground in the third quarter, putting the Bulldogs up 30-10.
“I caught my first pick and he got his first touchdown, so I know our parents and people back home are really happy to see that,” Alec said. “It feels great. It was a great thing for us.”
Once Hall returns, Zander will probably move back into a timeshare at fullback while his high-profile brother will likely continue to rank among Georgia’s most dangerous defenders. But for the last two weekends, both twins figured into the Bulldogs’ recipe for victory.
“It’s good to see Alec and Alexander, twin brothers, make big plays for Georgia and have a big game,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It was just a beautiful day in Sanford Stadium. It was fun and I’m sure their family is very excited about that. They’ve got a wonderful mom and dad and we love their family and we’re just glad the boys are doing good.”