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Tony Walsh/UGA
Georgia wide receiver Jermaine Burton, seen in last season’s game against Mississippi State, is recovering from a knee injury.

Dawg bites: Receiver injuries, Australian punters, Power 5 opponents

Kirby Smart got a little testy in his Zoom meeting with the media after Saturday’s scrimmage, when one of the Georgia beat reporters asked for an update on Arian Smith and Jermaine Burton, the second and third Dawgs receivers to be injured this spring (after George Pickens). 

You guys got to do your job, but you all certainly overreact to a lot of things,” Smart said. “I was really disappointed at the way everything was handled. Jermaine Burton is fine. He has no structural damage. He was out there today doing exercises, doing conditioning, doing different things. Jermaine Burton’s going to be fine.” 

Wide receiver Arian Smith, seen in last year’s game against South Carolina, sprained his wrist in Saturday’s scrimmage. (Tony Walsh/UGA)

He continued with the crux of his complaint, several reports that Burton likely will be out for the remainder of spring practice: “For anybody to report the length of time he’s going to be out, that’s really unfair because if our doctor and our team doctors don’t know that, then I don’t know how anybody else would because they would have seen the MRI, they would have seen the X-rays, and there’s nobody else that has seen that. So, it’s unfair to put misinformation out there for sure.”

As for Saturday’s injury to Smith, Smart said he “sprained his wrist and he should be fine. I don’t know if he’ll be back Monday. I don’t know that. They’re still doing the X-rays, but I know he sprained his wrist.”

Back to his complaint: “Let’s don’t have a lot of overreaction, if you don’t mind. Hey, you ask me, I tell you. Jermaine hyperextended his knee. He’s day-to-day. That’s what it is, it’s not anything past that. I don’t think that we should sensationalize the other things because it’s all part of football. We had other guys get injured today and it’s a lot bigger deal when everybody writes about ‘Oh, a receiver! Another receiver’s hurt!’ Receivers are going to be fine.”

Now, it’s only fair to point out that, where Burton was concerned, Smart’s “you ask me, I tell you” scenario didn’t really apply. After Burton went down in Tuesday’s practice, there was no information on the injury forthcoming from the Georgia staff. 

So, news reports leaned on the player’s high school coach, others who had talked with Burton, and prevailing medical opinion on how long it generally takes to recover from a hyperextended knee: two to four weeks.

If Smart had addressed the issue Tuesday, instead of waiting four days, his assessment that it’s not that big a deal and Burton “is day-to-day” would have led the initial reports of the injury. 

Generally, if you want to control the message, it’s wise to get out ahead of the story.

Of course, if Smart seemed a trifle sensitive on the subject, it’s understandable, considering that the need to replace Pickens’ game-changing talent looms ever larger with each new injury to a receiver. (Two other receivers, Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, are missing spring drills while rehabbing earlier injuries.)

At this point, I’d say the odds of Georgia looking to the post-spring practice transfer portal for an experienced receiver probably have ratcheted up quite a bit in the past couple of weeks.

Georgia quarterback Carson Beck practices for the Bulldogs’ scrimmage Saturday on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium. (Tony Walsh/UGA)

In other comments Saturday, Smart addressed one of the spring’s main projects, saying that the main thing the Dawgs’ secondary needs is experience. “We’re a long way from being ready in terms of what we need to do with the secondary, because we’ve just got a lot of inexperienced players,” he said. “We cannot have enough of those situations: scrimmages, passing, all of the different looks we get, because we need experience.” … As for the rebuilding offensive line, Smart said, it is “not where we need to be. We’re still moving some parts around.” … Asked to assess the three-way battle between Carson Beck, Stetson Bennett and Brock Vandagriff for backup quarterback behind declared starter JT Daniels, Smart basically punted, saying “All three of those guys are getting reps and all three of them are going to be really good players.” Asked to elaborate, he just said all three have their strengths and weaknesses. … About his team getting vaccinated for COVID-19, he said: “We’ve had the ability as coaches to get the vaccine, which is important, and our players will have the ability to do that moving forward.” Georgia is not requiring the shots, but “the doctors can talk to our team and educate them on the benefit for their families, for the group as a whole, and safety purposes, so we’re trying to encourage that,” Smart said.

Thunder from Down Under?

With punter Jake Camarda due to graduate after this season, the Dawgs are looking for another big foot. (Perry McIntyre/UGA)

With punter Jake Camarda due to graduate after this season, the Dawgs are in need of another big foot, and, so, it appears the Australian punter phenomenon finally is coming to Athens.

Brett Thorson, a punter from Melbourne, Australia, announced this week that he has accepted a full scholarship offer from the Bulldogs in their 2022 recruiting class, and plans to enroll at UGA in January, 2022.

Kicking in what’s generally called “rugby style” (though many of them actually come from Australian Rules Football), Aussie punters have been snapping up Ray Guy Awards (presented to Division 1’s top punter) and signing NFL deals for some time now. One of the reasons for their popularity is that the kickers’ running start, and the lower trajectory of their punts, quite often make them difficult to field.

Thorson may be an unknown to Bulldog Nation, but he’s done his research on UGA. As he told the AJC’s Chip Towers, “As far as the football goes, I know Georgia is as big as it can get. It’s like a religion to them. They just love football. I’ve watched all the videos and been told it, but I don’t think I’ll truly understand the scale of it until I’m there in person and see it myself.”

Scheduling Louisville: Better than a cupcake

The announcement this week that Louisville and Georgia have signed a home-and-home football deal for 2026 and 2027 isn’t as exciting as some of the Dawgs’ earlier additions to their future nonconference schedules (including the likes of Clemson, Oregon, Oklahoma, UCLA and Florida State), but it’s better than another UT Martin.

The Louisville Cardinals are the latest addition to Georgia’s future nonconference schedules. (University of Louisville)

The Cardinals are at least from a Power 5 conference (the ACC) and have been pretty good, from time to time.

While it’s not a flashy move, the addition of Louisville is in keeping with the scheduling philosophy that former Athletic Director Greg McGarity outlined to me a couple of years ago, when he said “the scheduling model we’re moving to in the future will be built around eight conference games, and Tech, and two more Power 5’s and one non-Power 5 opponent. … That’s our goal. Kirby is all about playing a tough schedule and playing quality opponents.”

Georgia now is scheduled to face three Power 5 nonconference opponents every year between 2026 and 2031.

In other words, only one lower-level opponent per season, as opposed to some years, when Georgia has played three such cupcake games in Athens. 

It’s not quite that bad this coming season, but with UAB and Charleston Southern joining South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Arkansas in playing Between the Hedges, Dawgs fans aren’t going to be treated to one of UGA’s more memorable home slates. (The season’s marquee game, against Clemson, will be a neutral-site affair held in Charlotte.)

Of course, some fans have fretted that playing a harder schedule on a consistent basis might make it tougher for Georgia to win another national championship. However, Smart and Co. are betting that, when the next College Football Playoff deal is signed, the playoff will expand to at least eight teams, maybe 12. And, in that case, difficulty of schedule will be a bigger factor, and a loss or two won’t necessarily keep a program that schedules aggressively out of the playoff.

Upgrading the home schedule also will give Georgia fans — particularly those who shell out big bucks for season tickets — more value for our money, likely helping keep UGA’s attendance figures among the healthiest, despite an overall slippage in the number of folks going to college football games.

As Smart said a while back of scheduling tougher nonconference opponents, “Yeah, it may hurt us one year, but it may help us one year. That’s the goal — for us to get into the College Football Playoff.”

I like that thinking.

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