A certain inevitability seems to have set in when it comes to Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs opening the season with some key players sidelined by suspensions.
Steve Spurrier got laughs — even from Richt — with his jibe last year that he likes facing UGA in the second game of the season “because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”
Many a truth is spoken in jest, and when it comes to Georgia football it appears to be the irresistible force — college students will act stupidly and break the rules even when they know the punishment — crashing against the immovable object — UGA’s strict policy on handling infractions by athletes involving drugs or alcohol.
The Dogs already were headed into the heavily hyped season opener against Clemson minus starting safety/nickel star back Josh Harvey-Clemons, and now with word that starting place-kicker Marshall Morgan was arrested this past weekend on a charge of boating under the influence, it looks like Richt will have to come up with a new kicking plan for at least the opening game against the Tigers and possibly the second game against Spurrier’s Gamecocks as well. (It all depends on whether a panel of senior UGA administrators decides that “BUI,” which isn’t covered in the student-athlete handbook, is handled the same way as a DUI infraction, which merits sitting out two games.)
At least other members of the Georgia football team who apparently were at Lake Sinclair with Morgan didn’t get in trouble for anything. Just think how bad it could have been!
Of course, losing any starter is a problem, and that’s especially the case when it’s a position where you only carry one scholarship player and the backups are walk-ons, which is the situation at place-kicker.
But the loss of Morgan for a game or two might not be quite as crucial as it would have been in some past seasons. He wasn’t exactly money in the bank his freshman season — eight of 14 on field-goal attempts and 63 of 67 on extra points — and as the season wore on Richt called on him less frequently for field goal attempts. His loss might be felt more keenly in kickoffs, though even last year he kicked off fewer times than then-backup Jamie Lindley, who unfortunately has graduated.
Morgan’s primary backups now are sophomore Patrick Beless and redshirt freshman Thomas Pritchard, both of whom kicked field goals and extra points in the G-Day game.
Starting punter Colin Barber also has place-kicking experience, but I think the Georgia coaches might not want to disrupt his routine by adding that to his plate. They might well opt instead to go with junior Adam Erickson, the backup punter, who also had a field goal on G-Day and who would be former kicker and now NFL Pro Bowl player Blair Walsh’s choice. Walsh told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald: “As far as the next guy in line goes, I have worked with Adam Erickson for three years and I have great confidence that he will be able to step in and do the job. I also am confident that coach (John) Lilly and coach Richt will handle the situation perfectly. Adam has a smooth swing and a confident attitude and I believe the situation will be hashed out through competition during camp.”
Bottom line, though, is that if Georgia is having to kick field goals against Clemson, the Dogs will probably be losing the game anyway. Better to think nothing but touchdown, and if the PATs get shaky, tell Aaron Murray to go for 2.
But beyond how to handle the likely absence of Morgan for a game or two, the bigger picture is that this has become an annual problem for Richt and that doesn’t seem likely to change in the future. So UGA officials need to deal with that reality.
Here’s one suggestion: If Georgia does schedule any other top-level nonconference opponents in the future — which Greg McGarity has indicated probably won’t happen often if the SEC goes to nine conference games — they might want to reconsider whether those teams should be scheduled at the very beginning of the season, when the suspensions are usually enforced. Better to open with a cupcake when you have starters sitting out.
And it wouldn’t hurt to do some lobbying in Birmingham to get South Carolina replaced as Georgia’s usual conference opener by, say, last year’s opener, Missouri, and have the Gamecocks moved to midseason.
Just think, it would give Spurrier something else to whine about!
WELL DONE, ALLISON!
Congratulations to UGA swimmer (and Olympian) Allison Schmitt, who was named SEC Female Athlete of the Year Tuesday.
Schmitt won three gold medals, one silver medal and a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics in London, and then returned to Athens to help lead the Lady Bulldogs to the NCAA and SEC swimming titles.
She won the NCAA championship in the 200-yard freestyle and helped the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relays win victories. At the SECs, she picked up titles on the 200-, 400- and 800-yard freestyle relays. Schmitt also earned the Honda Sports Award as the nation’s top swimmer.
Schmitt is the fifth UGA student to earn SEC Female Athlete of the Year recognition, having been preceded by golfer Vicki Goetze (1992), basketball player Saudia Roundtree (1996), swimmer Kristy Kowal (2000) and gymnast Courtney Kupets (2009).
“For Allison to be selected as the most outstanding athlete in our league is quite an accomplishment,” Georgia swimming coach Jack Bauerle told Georgiadogs.com. “She really did have a great year with the Olympic medals, the team titles and the individual titles. She’s a special young lady who has meant so much to our program.”
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg