ATHENS — For the first time since news of their indiscretions broke back in March, Georgia coach Mark Richt on Saturday finally admitted that Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are indeed suspended.
He’s still not saying for how long, however.
Ogletree, a star linebacker from Newnan, and the All-American safety Rambo, were among four defensive starters suspended for Saturday’s opener against Buffalo. The Bulldogs had already announced suspensions for cornerback Sanders Commings and linebacker Chase Vasser for off-season arrests.
But Richt and UGA had remained mum on Ogletree and Rambo, who reportedly failed school-administered drug tests after returning from spring break in March. Rambo’s high school coach has told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution both players are out for four games because theirs is a second offense of Georgia’s marijuana use policy.
Again, Richt wasn’t saying.
“Yes, they were suspended for this game,” Richt said. “We’ll find out what happens next week.”
Mitchell, Brown sidelined
The Bulldogs were also without two other players they thought they’d have entering the last practice of the week. Cornerback Malcolm Mitchell had to be scratched after suffering a fluke ankle injury in Thursday’s walk-through practice. Split end Marlon Brown was a game-day decision to hold out due a left hamstring strain suffered early in Wednesday’s practice. Both players are starters.
Mitchell’s loss was particularly disheartening because Georgia moved him from wide receiver to defensive back in order to shore up attrition in the secondary and get him ready for Missouri’s spread offense. Now they’re not even sure if he’ll be available next week.
“We never would have dreamed he would not have played,” Richt said. “We’re honing everything down Thursday and he ends up jumping up and coming down and landing on somebody’s foot and sprains his ankle and he’s out. Hopefully he’ll be able to practice and play this week, but I really couldn’t tell you.”
Brown was taken into the training room by sports medicine director Ron Courson early in Wednesday’s practice and flashed a thumbs-up sign when asked if he was all right. But the decision was made before Saturday’s game to hold him out.
Shortly before kickoff, Brown said, “I thought I’d be able go today,” but indicated he should be able to go next week.
Return expected for Theus
Georgia suffered two injuries on its offensive line during the game, most notably to right tackle John Theus. Theus, a 5-star signee from Jacksonville, went down with a left ankle injury four minutes into the fourth quarter and did not return.
“You never know with an ankle sprain,” Richt said. “With an offensive lineman, you have more guys who wrap it up tight and go. It’s tougher with skilled athletes.”
Right guard Chris Burnette went out with a bruised sternum at the 9:40 mark of the third quarter but returned later. He was still hurting after the game but said he “should be fine.”
With all the absenteeism, Georgia had to shuffle its starting lineups. As expected, former walkon Connor Norman, a sophomore from Duluth, got the start at Rambo’s free safety. Sophomore Amarlo Herrera started at Ogletree’s Mo linebacker position. Redshirt freshman Devin Bowman got the nod at nickelback while Damian Swann slid over to play the boundary corner normally held down by Commings and Mitchell.
Offensively, Michael Bennett started split end where Brown would have been. Sophomore Merritt Hall got his first career start at fullback .
“Whoever’s out there has to play good enough to win is really what it comes down to,” Richt said. “That’s the way football is.”
In all, Georgia had five first-time starters in the game: center David Andrews, Hall, Theus, Norman, Bowman and Morgan.
Game Ball Relay
The game ball for Saturday’s game made a grand entrance into Sanford Stadium.
It came from underneath the Sanford Drive overpass in the arms of former head coach and athletic director Vince Dooley, was handed off at the hedges to Olympic gold medalist swimmer Allison Schmitt, who delivered it to UGA halfback legend Charley Trippi, who handed it to Georgia baseball player Chance Veazey at midfield. Veazey was paralyzed from the waist down in a scooter accident a few years ago and was treated at the Shepherd Center.
The ball delivery was part of the Game Ball Relay, an Olympic torch-style relay from Atlanta to Athens to that benefited Atlanta’s Shepherd Center. It started in Atlanta on Friday with members of Georgia’s 1980 national championship team getting the first carries, then handing off to members of the Army ROTC to make overnight trek to Athens.
No sellout for Sanford
Attendance at Sanford Stadium was announced as 92,446. That’s 300 below a sellout, which is exactly the number of tickets the Bulldogs said they would have on sale Saturday morning. Capacity is 92,746, so that makes it the first home opener Georgia did not to sell out since 1998.
Special teams update
Georgia was pretty rotten on special teams last year, finishing 116th nationally in punt coverage, 88th in kickoff return coverage, 79th in net punting and 65th in kickoff return average. It was a little better on Saturday.
The Bulldogs had two huge special teams plays, a 100-yard kickoff return by freshman Todd Gurley and a blocked punt by sophomore Chris Conley.
Outside of that they were pretty average. Freshman kicker Marshall Morgan was 1-of-2 on field goals and 6-of-6 on PATS and did a good job on kickoffs. The Bulldogs alternated freshman punter Collin Barber with sophomore walkon Adam Erickson averaged 38.4 yards on five punts.
“I think our special teams was the difference,” Richt said. “. . . If it weren’t for that we’re losing the game at halftime.”
Georgia was somewhat better on kick coverage. Buffalo averaged 21 yards on two kickoff returns but went for 33 yards on its only punt return.
The Bulldogs played 13 true freshmen on Saturday, the most under Richt. . . . . Conley’s block punt was the 20th by the Bulldogs since Richt became coach in 2001. . . . Aaron Murray’s 63-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King was the 60th of his career. Murray now has 62 overall. King finished with 6 catches for 117 yards and now has 13 career TDs. . . . Georgia paid Buffalo $975,000 to play. It will pay a school-record $1 million to Florida Atlantic, its Sept. 15 opponent.
THE AJC’S COMPLETE COVERAGE OF SATURDAY’S GAME