On a Georgia defense with no shortage of high-profile players, cornerback Damian Swann has called a lot of attention to himself the past two Saturdays.
Against Florida, he forced a fumble, intercepted a pass and sacked a quarterback. Against Ole Miss, he recovered two fumbles, one of which he returned 53 yards, and made another sack.
“Just play every play,” Swann said, “because there’s no telling what could happen.”
He was especially surprised by what happened on his second fumble recovery against Ole Miss.
“I just looked up, and the ball was coming,” Swann said. “I just grabbed it. I thought it was Christmas already.”
Swann, a sophomore from Atlanta (Grady High), has stepped up his game as Georgia’s defense has hit its stride after disappointing performances earlier in the season.
In the past two games, the Bulldogs have held opponents to 121 yards rushing (75 by Florida and 46 by Ole Miss) and forced nine turnovers (six by Florida and three by Ole Miss). Georgia won the games 17-9 (over Florida) and 37-10 (over Ole Miss).
“It’s all coming around,” Swann said. “We’re playing the defense we know we’re capable of playing. That just comes with really taking it seriously and getting in the film room and practicing harder and paying attention to detail.”
Georgia fullback Merritt Hall returned to practice in a limited capacity this week and appears on the way to being able to play Saturday at Auburn. Hall has been sidelined since the first play of the Florida game with an ankle injury.
Junior Zander Ogletree has drawn praise from coaches for his play while filling in for Hall. Ogletree did not play in the season’s first six games and played one special-teams snap in the seventh. He appears in line to start against Auburn.
“It feels great just to start or make a play or anything for Georgia,” Ogletree said. “It feels awesome. Any opportunity is a blessing. I just waited my turn. I got pushed back a little bit, but I wasn’t going to let it hold me back and kept fighting and let it motivate me.”
Kenarious Gates, who has played every position on Georgia’s offensive line except center during his UGA career, was unsure earlier this week whether he’d play left tackle, left guard or right guard against Auburn. And he seemed fine with any of the above.
“I prefer tackle because I feel like it’s my natural position,” Gates said. “But I have fun at both positions. It’s different people you go against. At tackle, you go against the speed. At guard, you go against the power. So you’ve got to be ready for both. That’s what I’m preparing for.”
Gates, Georgia’s starting left tackle, shifted to right guard after Chris Burnette left last week’s game against Ole Miss with a shoulder injury. Mark Beard took over at left tackle.
Burnette has been sidelined from practice this week and won’t start Saturday. Gates said “the word going around” is that he’ll start at left or right guard, with Dallas Lee at the other. In practice Wednesday, Gates was working at left guard and Lee at right guard.
“It’ll be fun playing against my old defensive coach. … It’ll be a fun game just to showcase my talents to him.”
— Georgia fifth-year senior cornerback Sanders Commings on Auburn defensive backs coach (and former UGA defensive coordinator) Willie Martinez, who coached Commings in 2008 and 2009.
Georgia has won five of its past six games against Auburn, the loss coming in 2010. … Saturday’s game will be the 120th in the series, which dates to an 1892 game in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. … A Georgia win would tie the series, which Auburn leads 54-53-8.
– Tim Tucker and Chip Towers