Georgia defensive back Latavious Brini felt the heat following Cincinnati’s 3rd drive of the Peach Bowl.

With the Bearcats already up 7-0 and following an interception of JT Daniels, they faced a 3rd-and-8 at their own 3-yard line. Desmond Ridder dropped back and threw to Michael Young Jr., who had gotten past Brini. The pass sailed incomplete.

As the defense left the field, Brini was immediately met by Kirby Smart on the sideline, who, well, was in no mood for celebration. Had Ridder connected with Young, it would have equaled a sizable gain, at least, and Smart let Brini know it courtesy of a good, old-fashioned tongue lashing.

Message received by Brini, who barely put a foot wrong the rest of the way in a 1st career start that saw him total 2 tackles for a loss and 5 tackles overall.

That’s the Latavious Brini that Smart had been waiting to see since the South Florida native arrived in Athens in 2017. In a lot of ways, though, the Peach Bowl was a bit of a metaphor for Brini’s career: a slow start followed by a strong finish.

This was the same Brini, after all, who was rung up on a charge of 1st-degree felony in late 2017. It’s also the same Brini who was then arrested following a charge of simple assault in February 2019. While his felony charge was tossed out as prosecutors found no evidence of wrongdoing, the latter incident saw him placed on probation for 6 months.

Perhaps that was the wake-up call Brini needed. It’s not that he was a bad kid; he made mistakes that put him in some hot water.

With the events of his early days at Georgia behind him, he has bounced back and turned the page as an opportunity to help the team’s College Football Playoff hopes lies ahead.

Brini was a key figure in the secondary during Georgia’s 10-3 win over Clemson, an important victory in a huge top 5 battle in Charlotte. As of a few weeks ago, he probably wasn’t in line to be the starter at the Star position for the Dawgs — the linebacker/DB hybrid once patrolled by Mark Webb — as West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith was to be penciled in at the top of the depth chart if not for a foot injury.

That’s All-American and former All-Big 12 defensive back Tykee Smith, to be clear.

But Brini delivered, totaling 4 tackles and a key pass breakup of Frank Ladson Jr. in the end zone with the Tigers trailing 10-0 and needing a touchdown to wrest momentum from a swarming Bulldogs defense.

He had just one regret, though.

“I didn’t catch the interception,” he said following the contest. “(Defensive coordinator) Dan Lanning called a great call and it was a perfect time. It just wasn’t elite.”

Well, the defense could have fooled us.

Sure, there was the 6-catch, 110-yard performance by Joseph Ngata. But that was about all Clemson managed all night. DJ Uiagalelei, when he wasn’t picking himself up after 1 of the 7 times he was sacked, managed 13 completions for 68 yards to 7 other receivers. The Tigers’ run game was a non-factor.

“This is the best defense I’ve ever seen Georgia have,” Aaron Murray said on Monday on SiriusXM.

It just seems like whenever Brini gets an opportunity, he makes the most of it. He played in a total of 10 games combined in 2018 and 2019. That number rose to 7 in 2020, including his start against the Bearcats in the Peach Bowl that saw him eventually round into form.

All due respect to Luke Fickell’s team, but Saturday’s Tigers were always set to be a bigger challenge, a test Brini passed.

We’ll learn soon about the status of Smith and whether he’ll be ready for the upcoming game against UAB on Saturday or out for a little longer.

Until he returns, it looks like this Georgia secondary is in pretty good shape with a player like Brini in the mix.