No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs will bring one of nation’s youngest rosters into Tiger Stadium
ATHENS — There are a lot of things that concern Kirby Smart about Saturday’s matchup against LSU. How Georgia’s freshmen deal with the raucous environment of Tiger Stadium is not one of them .
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs are expected to start five freshmen and will likely play three times that many when Georgia takes on No. 12 LSU on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET; CBS-TV; WSB Radio 750-AM, 95.5 FM). That means they will be encountering the almost mythical atmosphere of LSU’s stadium, which has been nicknamed Death Valley for its adverse effect on visitors.
But while it will be a first encounter for those first-year players, this is also Georgia’s seventh game of the season and third on the road. Smart doesn’t expect any of the Bulldogs to be overwhelmed by the environment.
“Football fields are the same length at LSU and South Carolina and Missouri and everything else,” Smart said earlier this week. “Look, I mean, the evironment’s going to be tough. I get that. But the field’s going to be the same.”
Georgia is one of the youngest teams in America this season. The Bulldogs’ roster consists of 68.5 percent freshmen and sophomores. That’s the youngest in the SEC and 15th youngest in the country, according to UGA Sports Communication.
The Bulldogs are currently starting two freshmen on the offensive line in right tackle Isaiah Wilson (a redshirt) and right guard Cade Mays. They may start a third today if sophomore Solomon Kindley (knee) is unable to go at left guard.
On defense, true freshman Tyson Campbell of Plantation, Fla., has started every game at left cornerback. True freshman Brenton Cox is D’Andre Walker’s primary backup at outside linebacker.
Meanwhile, Jake Camarda, a freshman from Norcross, has started every game at punter.
Campbell, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound speedster out of American Heritage High School, has one of the tougher assignments. With senior and All-America candidate Deandre Baker manning the other side of the field, Campbell is constantly getting picked on by opposing offenses. Saturday, he’ll be asked to keep tabs on a bevy of long, tall and talented LSU receivers, including 6-2, 185-pound sophomore Justin Jefferson, quarterback Joe Burrow’s top target, and 6-foot-6 junior Dee Anderson.
In Campbell, Smart trusts.
“He’s growing up,” Smart said of Campbell, a 5-star recruit who was the No. 2 cornerback prospect in the country. “He plays hard and plays against pretty good wideouts every day in practice. They go one-on-one against each other. He probably gets 50 reps a day against Riley (Ridley), JJ (Holloman), Tyler (Simmons), Terry (Godwin). He faces good wide receivers in practice. He competes. He grew up playing against good receivers. He continues to get better. He’s played in tough environments.”
Despite having numerous challengers at his position, Campbell hasn’t come close to losing grip on his starting position. He has started all six games, recorded 15 tackles and has one pass break-up. Most notably, he had a 64-yard fumble-return touchdown in Georgia’s last road game at Missouri.
Georgia’s most important contribution Saturday might come from Camarda. Camarda has not relinquished the punting job since beating out graduate transfer Landon Stratton for the duty in preseason camp. But while he brings a healthy 44.1-yard average into today’s game, he has been inconsistent. Only Texas A&M has recorded more touchbacks (8) than Camarda’s 5, and Georgia’s net punting average of 37.8 is ninth in the league. Meanwhile, LSU’s Jonathan Giles is one of the best in SEC on returns.
“We need consistency,” Smart said. “… Jake is going to be big in this game. He’s got to hit his punts, he’s got to hit his field zones, get his hang times and we’ve got to cover well.”
LSU, by contrast, is a much more veteran team. The Tigers are expected to start two freshmen on Saturday. Either Ja’Marr Chase or Terrance Marshall is expected to get the nod at one wideout position and Micah Baskerville starts at middle linebacker.
But those guys are at home. Georgia’s freshmen — and the entire team in fact — will be getting their first taste of the infamous Tiger Stadium.
“An extremely tough environment to play in, one that I’ve both experienced as a player and a lot of times as a coach,” Smart said. “They have an incredible environment. Their fan base is really second to none in their atmosphere they create from the time you pull in on the buses to play in the stadium. It’s an awesome opportunity for our team to play on a national stage. It’s an opportunity for a lot of our guys to play in a venue that a lot of Georgia players never got a chance to play in and some in the future won’t get an opportunity to play in. So that part is good.”