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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Monday, Aug. 26, 2013

Georgia-Clemson kickoff can't get here fast enough 

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Mark Richt photo
Georgia head coach Mark Richt will be experiencing his 32nd college football season opener - 13th as the Bulldogs’ head coach.

By Chip Towers

ATHENS – Welcome to Game Week. It’s not as good as Game Day,  but the excitement factor definitely ratchets up a notch when the countdown clocks start ticking down to those little-bitty numbers.

As of this morning, we’re five days – and a long afternoon of tailgating -- away from the Georgia-Clemson kickoff. The nation’s fifth-ranked and eighth-ranked teams will play before a national television audience on ABC at 8 p.m. Saturday night at sold-out Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.

As invigorating as that is for fans of both programs, it’s even more stimulating for the players and coaches that are going to be participating in the game. They have been preparing for this for the better part of eight months. Not only is the anticipation of the competition building within them, but the coaches have also called off the dogs, so to speak, as far as the intensive physical preparation goes for the season.

“Definitely ready for game week,” said Georgia left guard Dallas Lee, a senior who will be making his 22nd career start against the Tigers. “We don’t hit like we’ve been doing all preseason, so that’ll be real nice.  Now we get to hit somebody else. “

“It’s wild,” sophomore tackle John Theus said. “It’s like it’s here so fast, but when you’re on Day 5 of camp it seems like it’s going so slow. Now it’s right around the corner. It’s crazy. It’s definitely exciting to get into game week and preparing for Clemson. It’s going to be a crazy, crazy game.”

Even jaded veterans like Mark Richt, who will be experiencing his 32nd college football season opener -- and 13th as the Bulldogs’ head coach – are starting to get all tingly.

“Even us as coaches, doing it as many years as we’ve done it, you still get your blood pumping, the adrenalin going,” Richt said. “You’re still very uncertain of what you’re going to see. We know what we have, but we don’t know how it’s going to compare and matchup with Clemson and South Carolina and that kind of thing. So this is a pretty special time for everybody.”

It will be especially special for about a third of the team. At least nine Georgia players will be a starter for their first time as a collegian – seven on the defensive side of the ball -- and three times that number will be getting their first extensive playing time of any sort.

The Bulldogs signed 33 players in the last recruiting class, 31 of whom were able to enroll. All will be a little wider-eyed in the coming days.

“A lot of those freshmen or first-year players are going to get into a stadium like that for the first time and play on national TV for the first time,” Richt said. “They’re wearing that red and black for the first time, putting on that jersey for the first time and those silver britches. That means something. And it’s hard to stay focused on your job, your responsibility.

“And there’re a lot of guys who have been kind of waiting for their moment. Maybe they haven’t been a starter before, and all of the sudden they’re feeling like, ‘I’m in a responsible position for the first time since I’ve been at Georgia.’ There is going to be a lot of that running through some guys’ minds.”

The Bulldogs will do everything they can to prepare the pups for the moment. They’ll follow up Sunday’s off day with a full-pads workout Monday – though Richt said there will be no tackling – Tuesday they’ll put finishing touches on the game plan, and Wednesday and Thursday will be “treated like dress rehearsal days,” Richt said.

There are a few personnel matters to clear up. With safety Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended for the opener and freshman Tray Matthews sidelined most of the preseason, who will play the back third of the Bulldogs' defense remains uncertain. Also undecided are the starters along the defensive line, the right side of the offensive line and exactly what will the role be of fabulous freshman Leonard Floyd. Richt will be asked about that and more at Tuesday's game week news conference.

An announcement regarding who might handle place-kicking duties won't be forthcoming, however. Not "until halftime of the game," Richt has enjoyed saying.

Yep, must be game week. Kickoff can’t get here fast enough.


Chip Towers

About Chip Towers

Chip Towers covers the Georgia Bulldogs for the AJC. Georgia Bulldogs beat blog

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