ATHENS — Georgia’s Dominick Sanders won’t get to play in the first half against Florida on Saturday, but that won’t change the way his defensive backfield mates conduct themselves on the field.
It’s not because they intend to defy the NCAA’s targeting rules. The reality is, they couldn’t let it affect their games if they wanted to.
“I don’t think it’s about instincts; you’ve just gotta know in the midst of the play,” sophomore cornerback Malkom Parrish said. “You can’t let the big hit affect you. You just have to make that tackle and make that play well. There’s not time. It’s preparation. It’s tackling every day. It’s almost like second nature.”
Sanders was flagged for targeting with 7:35 left in the third quarter of Georgia’s 9-6 win over Missouri on Oct. 17. Sanders made helmet-to-helmet contact with Hall as he tried to haul in the pass near the Missouri sideline. The call was upheld after a short review, as is standard operating procedure.
Since the penalty occurred in the second half and requires a one-game suspension, Sanders will have to sit out the first half of the next game, which happens to be against Florida on Saturday. That action will snap a 20-game starting streak for Sanders — who started every game as a true freshman last season — and take the Bulldogs’ best defensive back off the field for the first 30 minutes of the biggest game of the year against a pass-oriented team.
Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt wouldn’t say what the Bulldogs’ plans are for filling the void. Recent participation would suggest freshman Johnathan Abram would get the start at Sanders’ safety position or they could move cornerback Aaron Davis to safety.
Pruitt has made it clear in the past he is less concerned with who is at what position than having the best five defensive backs on the field.
“We’ve made Dom a 2 this week. That’s what we’ve had to do and we’ve had to rep some other guys,” Pruitt said. “It’s part of football. This time of year, guys get hurt, things happen, so some other guys got to step up. That’s why they give us 85 scholarships. Somebody else will have to play and they’ll have to play well for us.”
Parrish is unlikely to be the one to move. He has started every game at field cornerback this season and is one of the team’s best perimeter tacklers with 35 stops and three tackles for loss.
But regardless of Sanders’ suspension, he said he plans to play just as aggressively against the Gators as he has all season. The coaching staff has encouraged them all to take that tact.
“They just let us play football,” Parrish said. “We should know the rules of the game. So, after that happened, it was ‘just play football. You’ve been playing football; don’t stop playing now.'”
Parrish also believes the Bulldogs will be able to weather the storm against a Florida team that averages 249.6 yards passing a game and has accounted for 14 touchdowns this season.
“We’re comfortable; we understand,” Parrish said. “Everyone has to play their part and everyone knows their roles. If one goes down, the next just has to step up.”
As for Sanders, he’ll have to bide his time in the locker room as NCAA rules prevent him from being on the sideline. He’ll likely be watching the game on a television set and trying to scout some of Florida’s offensive trends before the second half.
“He’s holding his head up high,” Parrish said of his classmate. “He’s going hard every day at practice. I don’t think it’s getting to him, at least as far as what he’s showing to the team.”