ATHENS – Game week finally arrived for the Georgia Bulldogs and, well, nothing really happened.
First-year coach Kirby Smart conducted his first of 12 weekly news conferences on Monday and, other than acknowledging the worst-kept secret ever – that tailback Nick Chubb is indeed going to play – he really didn’t reveal anything new. That is, other than he already has on his game face.
Smart was salty. Most of the questions he entertained during the 20-minute, question-and-answer were met with short, terse answers. He was combative and defensive.
Meanwhile, he did not publicly resolve the quarterback competition beyond acknowledging Brice Ramsey is out of it and Jacob Eason and Greyson Lambert remain in it. He remained non-committal on whether or not tailback Sony Michel (broken forearm) would be available to play. He did not provide any clarity who might start at left tackle or really anywhere else on the field. Likewise, Smart wasn’t ready to make a call on punter or place-kicker.
In fact, the depth chart Georgia released in advance of Saturday’s season opener against North Carolina included 21 “ORs,” meaning either Player A or B or C could start that Saturday. North Carolina, for the sake of perspective, had six “ORs” on its depth chart.
Smart was asked if the competition was simply that close or if they were just indecisive as a coaching staff.
“Well, a lot of guys are playing,” Smart said. “A lot of guys on defense are going to play. When your mom and dad read the paper, they like to know their sons are on the roster. There are a lot of ‘ORs’ on there because you’ve got to play a lot of people when people play fast. We (have) a lot of great competition at a lot of positions. A lot of guys deserve ‘ors’.”
Count quarterbacks among them. Smart said they grudgingly eliminated Ramsey, the redshirt sophomore, from the competition only because it was just too complicated to install the North Carolina gameplan with three quarterbacks. But he also said they’ll be willing to play more than one when they face off against No. 22-ranked Tar Heels at the Georgia Dome.
“We’re going to see how it goes,” he said. “First thing we have to do is figure out who’s taking the first snap before we worry about the next guy coming in. I think it’ll reveal itself the next couple of days. Continue getting those guys reps and get both of them ready to play — that’s the plan.”
After a week’s worth of Eason, the 5-star true freshman from Washington, working extensively with the No. 1 unit, fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert seemed to get a lot of those snaps at Monday’s practice. Alas, it appears who starts at quarterback will be a game-time decision, like most positions actually.
Only 11 players overall were listed as undisputed starters. They were center Brandon Kublanow, right tackle Greg Pyke, tight end Jeb Blazevich, defensive linemen John Atkins, DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle and Trent Thompson, outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter and defensive backs Juwuan Briscoe, Malkom Parrish and Dominick Sanders.
Even Chubb was bracketed with senior Brendan Douglas at tailback.
“The attitude is good,” sophomore Terry Godwin said of the all the competition. “We’re all in there, we’re all smiling, we know what we have to do and we know what our job is. We’re going to go out there and excel.”
Meanwhile, 352 miles away, North Carolina was conducting its pregame news conference in Chapel Hill. Coach Larry Fedora and his charges were being asked how much they are motivated for the Georgia game by what happened last year.
The Tar Heels also opened in a neutral site against an SEC opponent a year ago to the day and played very poorly in losing to South Carolina 17-13 in Charlotte. UNC went on to win 11 straight and that early-season loss prevented them from reaching some of their postseason goals.
“Oh you bet,” Fedora said if they’d learned anything from that loss. “There’s a bunch of lessons to be learned in each of those situations and hopefully we learned from them and got a little bit better. Has it been enough? We’ll learn Saturday night.”
The Bulldogs are similarly motivated. Georgia hasn’t played in the Georgia Dome since losing a four-point heart-breaker in the 2012 SEC Championship Game and hasn’t played in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff since 2011 when it was humbled by Boise State 34-21.
But that’s not what has the Bulldogs fired up.
“The level (of excitement) is very high,” Godwin said. “We’ve been waiting all spring and summer for this event. I know once it gets here we’re all going to be on our Ps and Qs and we’re going be rolling when we first come out. … Everything’s at a high-intensity level right now.”
Clearly that starts with the head coach.