It’s football, so injuries happen. At every school, in every corner of the country.
Oftentimes, when a starter goes down, you hear that “next man up” line that everyone likes to use. But at some places, that next man isn’t ready, or is a huge step down in talent and/or experience. The fall-off is obvious, and it often leads to defeats, and lost seasons.
That hasn’t been the case at Georgia. And it’s a big reason the Dawgs already won the SEC East and have other lofty goals to still chase.
Georgia’s depth has been critical, and it’s usually a true freshman from last year’s top-ranked recruiting class who is making a difference.
Cornerback Tyson Campbell took advantage in the fall, and earn a starting job right from the get-go. Offensive lineman Cade Mays filled in early when Andrew Thomas went down at left tackle, and he’s slid over to guard to fill in for Ben Cleveland. Last week, true freshman Trey Hill had to play center almost the entire game against Kentucky after senior Lamont Gaillard (hyper-extended knee) went down. On defense, Jordan Davis has filled in nicely as a starter on the injury-riddled defensive line.
The youngsters haven’t just acclimated. They’ve contributed — in a big way.
“It’s not just getting them here. It’s getting them to buy into our principles and values, into doing what the seniors want — and then learning and dealing with the frustration of being away from home,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday. “This group is starting to overcome a lot of that and get better, as they get more and more experience.”
Further contributions will be coming, too. Six other true freshmen — quarterback Justin Fields, guard Jamaree Salyer, safety Otis Reese, and linebackers Brenton Cox, Channing Tindall and Adam Anderson — have gotten a taste thus far, in limited roles. If anything else happens on the injury front, they all could be ready to play a lot, too.
That’s a lot of freshmen, but that’s OK when you can recruit like Georgia has the past couple of years.
“I don’t know statistically. I can’t tell you the most I’ve ever had play or the least I’ve ever had play. We’ve got a lot of them in our two-deep, and it’s mainly because I think eight or nine of them came early. So that helped them get acclimated,” Smart said. “That certainly had an effect with Cade (Mays) and maybe Trey (Hill), and the other guys who came early. They got to get to work earlier. But I can’t tell you. I just know these guys are working hard, and you want to bring good players in your program.”
What we often forget, too, is that there are a lot of second-year players in key roles as well. Quarterback Jake Fromm, running back D’Andre Swift and left tackle Andrew Thomas are only sophomores. Right tackle Isaiah Wilson and backup outside linebacker Robert Beal are redshirt freshmen playing key roles.
So it’s obvious, yes, but all this young talent means Georgia is going to be good for a while.
“Look at it as a two-year span of guys who haven’t had significant roles. I think those guys are growing up, getting better,” Smart said. “I said it after the game last week: Some guys got in the game who hadn’t been, because we’ve had to use them. They have some attributes we need, and I’m pleased with those guys’ growth. I just hope the maturity allows them to handle it, whether it’s a little success, in the case of Channing (Tindall) or Adam (Anderson) or Brenton (Cox) — or a little frustration, in the case of somebody that’s not playing as much as they want to. They just have to keep getting better.”