ATHENS — If you’ve noticed a lot of names and numbers you don’t recognize on the field for Georgia this season, you get a pass. There have indeed been a lot of unfamiliar faces playing for the Bulldogs this season.
In fact, Georgia has already played 21 true freshmen in the first three games this season. According to UGA, that leads the nation. Nineteen of those young men played in the opener alone, which also was the most in the country.
“We’ll play some freshmen,” coach Mark Richt said with a grin Tuesday.
The Bulldogs signed 26 true freshmen in their incoming class of 28 this past February. The two transfers in that group — junior Chuks Amaechi and senior Jake Ganus — are also receiving extensive playing time.
That may come as somewhat of a surprise as the Bulldogs generally were thought of as a veteran-laden team. But by all indications, it wasn’t your standard recruiting class. They came in rated No. 6 in the nation, according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings.
Senior receiver Malcolm Mitchell has taken notice. “They definitely should sell that,” he said of all the freshmen playing, including all four receiver signees. “I think Georgia does a great job of not showing favorites in the realm of a senior versus a freshman. Whoever is the best guy gets the job.”
Playing so many young players has come with some resident hazards, however. There have been some breakdowns and mistakes.
“I think they play with a lot of energy and athleticism. All those things are great,” Richt said. “But we talked about it today as a staff: Fundamentally and technique wise, we’ve got to get better, those guys in particular.”
Nine freshmen were represented on Georgia’s kickoff coverage team on Saturday, and that group struggled mightily. The Bulldogs gave up 162 yards on six returns in the 52-20 win over South Carolina. They were also flagged for penalties twice — once for a facemask and another time for offsides — and should have been flagged for offsides three more times, according to Richt.
“When you’ve got nine true freshmen running down the field or whatever it was and you’ve got the all learning at the same time, that’s not really healthy,” Richt said. “If you’re sprinkling two or three in and you’ve got a bunch of veterans to show the way, it’s not so bad. But we’ve got a bunch of puppies in there right now.”
That said, Richt does not anticipate inserting more veterans.
“We know we’re coaching the right guys,” he said. “They just need more work. We’ve got to keep practicing well, we’ve got to keep getting better in the games and they’re going to get it.”