NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In three years as a Georgia football player, Juwan Taylor had never before started a game. But with top reserve Reggie Carter dealing with an injury, Taylor was preparing all week as if he would at least play.
“I was very prepared with the Reggie situation,” Taylor said.
Then came the Natrez situation.
Natrez Patrick, who had started every game this season and most of last year at inside linebacker, was arrested on Thursday night for marijuana possession. That meant an automatic suspension – and not just for Saturday – and with Carter also out, Taylor was suddenly thrust into a major role.
Taylor was told on Friday morning he would start.
“The reaction was: Next man up,” Taylor said. “Be my brother’s keeper, step up, be the next man.”
Taylor finished with 3 tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage, getting most of the snaps alongside star inside linebacker Roquan Smith, who again led the way with 7 tackles.
Monty Rice, a freshman, also was vaulted into a bigger role, coming in off the bench and ending up with a couple solo tackles.
“Monty did real well. He’s going to be a beast,” Taylor said. “He’s fast and he’s big. So he’s going to be a real good player.”
Tae Crowder, a former tailback who moved to inside linebacker last year, also saw playing time. Overall, coach Kirby Smart thought the makeshift group of replacement inside linebackers “played OK.”
“They played OK. I’m not ready to name a permanent starter,” Smart said. “We have some competition going on there. I think both of those kids had some anxiety. I thought Monty made some plays in the game. He’s such a good kid and wants to play well so bad. He’s playing near his hometown up here. He and Juwan both, I was proud of the way they handled it. But we can do better.”
As for Patrick, he served the first of what will be a four-game suspension, at least going by the UGA student-athlete drug policy. Smart did not say much when asked about his status.
“Natrez will be handled internally,” Smart said. “All discipline will be handled internally, just like we normally do.”