ATHENS, Ga. -- If the fans at Missouri are as rowdy as expected for Saturday’s SEC opener against Georgia, the position group that would be most affected by crowd noise would be Georgia’s offensive line.
Compounding that problem for the Bulldogs is the line’s collective inexperience playing together on the road. Only junior guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee have started a road game at their respective positions, so it would be understandable -- if not expected -- for the Bulldogs to collect a penalty or two for false starts Saturday.
However, they will practice with piped-in crowd noise today and practiced using silent counts not only this week, but also two weeks ago before they began game-week preparations for the opener against Buffalo.
“We started practicing actually two weeks ago, preparing for doing all of our silent stuff since you can’t hear,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said earlier this week. “We practiced that for a week straight and then last week we got back into regular cadence getting ready for Buffalo. But we got a whole week of it in already, so just keep working on it and we’ll be fine.”
Two Georgia linemen made their debuts as starters last week -- sophomore center David Andrews and true freshman right tackle John Theus. Junior Kenarious Gates started his first game at left tackle after starting at guard earlier in his career.
Those tackles face the biggest challenge with crowd noise, according to coach Mark Richt, because they line up farthest from the quarterback. So if Theus’ sprained ankle heals to the point that he can play Saturday, the noise will create yet another obstacle for the freshman.
“If he’s able to go, I would think it will be something new for him, but I don’t think he’s gone through anything like that,” Richt said. “He’s been in some big stadiums in some all-star games or something, but I don’t think they were full of excited fans -- not enough to create the noise he’s going to hear this weekend.”
Theus would not be alone in playing before such a large road crowd for the first time. Sophomore Mark Beard, who transferred from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College prior to spring practice, said the biggest road crowd he ever played before was at rival Butler (Kan.) Community College and numbered around 10,000.
“I’m going to be nervous,” admitted Beard, Gates’ backup at left tackle. “I heard they have about 70,000. That’s a lot of crazy fans.”
Junior Austin Long has been along for big away games in the past, but he hasn’t played in many of them. That will change this weekend -- and his role could grow substantially if Theus is unable to play or if he can’t gut it out for the entire game.
Long could quickly become the Bulldogs’ top option at right tackle, but he said he tries not to think about the problems that crowd noise could create if he’s on the field. Long has switched between guard and tackle and said lining up alongside left tackle Gates and right guard Burnette will help him manage the situation.
“We all talk pretty fairly with each other so everyone knows what they’re doing,” Long said. “Having guys out there that have played and know what’s going on, that certainly helps.”