ATHENS, Ga. -- If the halftime score of Georgia’s team scrimmage on Wednesday is in any way a preview of the Aug. 31 opener at Clemson, there are going to be some unhappy Bulldogs fans in Death Valley.
“I’m thinking right now I’m going to have Clemson with a 28-0 lead going into the third quarter and see if Georgia can come back and win it, so stay tuned. We’ll see what happens,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Tuesday’s practice.
The Wednesday evening event at Sanford Stadium -- Georgia’s third and final preseason scrimmage -- will serve as a practice game for the opener. For the first time, Richt’s staff will split the roster into expected contributors for the Clemson game versus everyone else.
That scout team will simulate Clemson, and will attempt to defend the four-touchdown halftime lead with reserve quarterbacks Christian LeMay and Faton Bauta simulating Tigers star quarterback Tajh Boyd against the veterans.
“Tomorrow is a very important day,” Richt said. “It’s the first time that it’s Georgia versus somebody instead of Georgia versus Georgia. It’s been offense versus defense up until this time. Now the No. 1 units get to play on the same team, get to cheer for each other instead of give each other a hard time. And our coordinators can actually have fun together instead of competing against each other. So that’s a good thing. I’m looking forward to it.”
It also gives the coaching staff an opportunity to practice logistical situations, such as from a kickoff to a scrimmage series or following a change of possession, for the first time in a game-like environment. And they’ll do so with the personnel who will have to make those in-game transitions on Aug. 31.
“It’s just to get everybody more prepared for the game -- the things that we’re going to actually be doing and to put it in play,” senior defensive end Garrison Smith. “That sort of thing.”
Although the coaching staff informed the players Tuesday which ones will start out on the scout team, Richt and Smith both said they have seen youngsters battle their way into playing time during the season after initially being cast aside with the scout team. Richt used former Bulldogs linebacker Odell Thurman as an example of a player who fought his way off the scout team, and said players can similarly change opinions again with starting positions or contributing roles.
“There’s probably some starting positions on the line,” Richt said. “I know there’s some guys that probably still could possibly turn a coach’s head and say, ‘You know, this kid’s ready to play.’ There’ll be some guys that are playing for Clemson that could possibly sprout or however you want to say it or just play so well that we’re like, ‘You know what, maybe we ought to give this guy some reps.’ ”
One area that will remain a concern beyond Wednesday’s scrimmage is the injury-depleted secondary. The group which must already replace three starters and will be without strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons -- who is suspended for the opener -- continues to struggle with injuries.
Of the 13 players listed on Georgia’s Tuesday pre-practice injury report, seven were defensive backs including expected starting safety Tray Matthews (out with a hamstring strain) and the only returning starter, cornerback Damian Swann (limited with a hip flexor/groin strain). Cornerbacks Sheldon Dawson (shoulder sprain) and Devin Bowman (hamstring strain) and safety Corey Moore (knee sprain) -- all expected contributors this season -- were either limited or held out on Tuesday.
“The group that goes with Georgia, it’ll be interesting to see how much time the Clemson quarterback will have to get the ball off,” Richt said. “I think we’ve got a good enough line that’ll be playing for Clemson tomorrow that should be able to protect the quarterback, should be able to allow him to make some passes.
“There’ll be some receivers on that team that can make plays. So it’s not going to be a situation where they’re not going to get tested. I’m not saying they’re going to be as good as Clemson by any stretch, but they’ll be good enough to put some pressure on them.”