ATHENS — Kenarious Gates came to Georgia as a last-minute throw-in with the recruiting class of 2010. Now, as a senior and the Bulldogs’ starting left tackle, he’s being asked to contain the player roundly identified as the greatest in college football.
He’ll have help. Ultimately, the entire Georgia offense intends to be involved in the task of corralling South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. But there will be no single person on the Bulldogs’ roster more responsible for blocking the talented defensive end.
“I’m just going to treat it like I do every other game,” said Gates, a 6-foot-5, 327-pound senior. “It’s not just me as an individual. It’s a team. We’re going to do it as a team. We’re going to win as a team, we’re going to fight as a team and we’re going to work together.”
As everybody on the planet knows at this point, blocking Clowney is not a one-man endeavor. That’s true for any great pass-rushing specialist, of which there have been dozens over the years in college football. Georgia had a pretty good one leave early for the NFL after last season, and Jarvis Jones’ two-year production outpaced Clowney’s by a good bit (28 sacks and 44 tackles for loss to 21 and 35.5, respectively).
But few can compare with the 6-foot-6, 274-pound athletic dynamo that the No. 6 Gamecocks will bring to Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
Gates faced him last year — again, not exclusively — and got all he could handle. The final score was jaw-dropping — South Carolina, 35-7 — but Clowney’s line was not: four tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, no hurries. Perhaps that’s why Gates wasn’t ready to tab Clowney as the best he has ever faced.
“There’s a lot of talent out there,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good player. But I’m not going pick out an individual and say, ‘oh, he’s the greatest player I’ve played against’ because there’s a lot of talent out there that’s good as well. He’s a great athlete. He’s just one of them guys you’ve got to be disciplined against and don’t try to be perfect.”
There are numerous adjustments an offense can make for a dominant pass rusher such as Clowney, and the Bulldogs are expected to employ all of them Saturday.
They will slide protection to his side of the field, which means the guard protects the inside rush lane. They will keep in a tight end to double-team or “chip and release.” They will utilize running backs. They will employ a quick-passing game. They will run the football right at him.
“Those are the things that you try to do,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. “You can also sprint your protection to or away from him or move the pocket from time to time.”
Similar techniques have worked with varying degrees of success. There were four games last season in which Clowney did not record a sack, and he drew a goose egg Thursday against North Carolina.
The Gamecocks defeated the Tar Heels handily (27-10), but Clowney’s performance (three tackles, three quarterback hurries) drew criticism from the analysts calling the game for television. They thought he looked poorly conditioned and took off some plays.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier didn’t necessarily disagree with them, but he expects a better effort against Georgia. Clowney has three sacks and two forced fumbles against the Bulldogs the past two seasons.
“I think one thing he learned is that the camera is on him all the time now,” Spurrier told reporters at his news conference Tuesday in Columbia. “So he knows that, and hopefully he is ready to go. It was a hot day last week as we all know and it affected him, no question about it. Hopefully we can get him a little bit better prepared physically to go the distance against Georgia.”
Clowney singled out Georgia’s Aaron Murray at SEC Media Days in July as one of several quarterbacks he faces who are scared of him. Murray didn’t want to revisit the subject Tuesday, but he did say Clowney is one of the more dominant forces he has faced in terms of his ability to affect the game plan.
“The dude from Auburn a couple of years ago, (Nick) Fairley, that guy,” Murray said. “He was very similar in being able to affect the game.”
Georgia’s line will have to play better than it did a week ago when it allowed four sacks, a hurry and a fumble against Clemson. But Gates said he’s ready, and he won’t be alone.
“We’re Georgia,” he said. “We have a powerful offense. … We’re not going to run away from this player or that player. We’re just going to do what we do.”
UGA TO CURB TD CELEBRATIONS?: Georgia lost star receiver Malcolm Mitchell to a season-ending injury that he suffered while jumping in the end zone with teammates in celebration of a Todd Gurley touchdown last Saturday night. But that didn’t spur a no-jumping edict from Richt.
“You can’t temper celebration,” Richt said Tuesday. “That would be a bad thing to do. We’ve done a good job of that from time to time. But you have to play with enthusiasm and energy. You have to celebrate with your teammates. … It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard of that happening on a celebration.”
Mitchell, a junior wide receiver, leaped to “air bump” with Gurley and fellow wideout Chris Conley after Gurley’s 75-yard touchdown run tied the score 7-7 in the first quarter against Clemson. Video shows Mitchell gingerly walking out of the end zone and back to the sideline while his teammates continued to revel in the moment.
Mitchell ended up on the sideline with ice on his knee and did not return. An MRI revealed a tear in his ACL.
“We always celebrate the same way,” said Conley, a junior flanker. “We always have a little competition to see who can jump higher, so everybody was thinking the same thing, and no one really even noticed until we got back over to the sideline that something was wrong.”
Said Gurley: “I didn’t really pay it attention. After that he kind of grabbed me and I know that look, like something happened.”
It’s not the first time a player went down in celebration. Richt recalled a teammate at Miami doing it once. And Arizona Cardinals kicker Bill Grammatica infamously injured his knee while jumping in celebration of a winning field goal in 2001.
While there is no mandate, Conley said he expects the team will be more mindful of their joyful moments.
“Now everyone is a little more conscious about it,” he said. “It’s kind of an unspoken rule that we’re not going to do that anymore. We’ll find another way to celebrate, and it won’t really take away from it. But we’ll definitely be more conscious about it so that we can prevent things like that from happening again in the future.”
Said Gurley: “Stuff happens, you know. God’s plan. Anything could happen. I could fall down right now in this chair. Hopefully that won’t happen.”
Meanwhile, Richt said Mitchell’s spirits were up two days after getting the news.
“(Former Randolph-Clay and UGA star) Thomas Davis was an All-American safety here and now is playing with the Panthers,” Richt said. “I think he’s the only NFL player that has had three ACL surgeries on the same knee and returned to play, and he played extremely well. Thomas called him and got on the phone with a little bit, and that helped him out.”
BACK IN THE MIX: Back from suspension, sophomore defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons practiced with the No. 1 defense Tuesday. The difficulty for the Bulldogs now is in figuring out how to get both Harvey-Clemons and freshman Leonard Floyd on the field at the same time. Floyd played much of the Clemson game at the “star” position that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham essentially created for Harvey-Clemons.
“Josh will end up playing the positions we talked about before. He can play safety, and we can move him around and play him at the nickel. So he’ll play both,” Grantham said after Tuesday’s workout. “We can move guys around. We can play Leonard as an outside ‘backer or the nickel, and we can play Josh at strong safety. So we’ll be able to do all of that.”
INJURY REPORT: Tight end Jay Rome had his left ankle heavily wrapped and worked to the side of the field with Georgia trainers Tuesday. Rome was dressed in full pads but in a green, non-contact jersey. A high sprain in that ankle kept Rome out for nearly two weeks during preseason practice. Others on the injury report included defensive back Kennar Johnson (illness), tailback A.J. Turman (knee, ankle), linebacker Chase Vasser (ankle) and receiver Rantavious Wooten (ankle).
NOTES: Richt said he thought walk-on kicker Patrick Beless did “a very good job for us,” but indicated his competition with Adam Erickson would continue. “Either one of them could possibly kick for us,” he said. … Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, center Ryan Norton and receiver Sammy Watkins all were named ACC Players of the Week at their respective positions for their performances against Georgia.