There is no shortage of joy on the Georgia sidelines as Lawrence Cager heads for the endzone against Florida Saturday. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

Cager’s big day against Gators signals better days for Bulldogs offense

Man, at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, he sure looked like he could be Jake Fromm’s BFF, especially on third down and around the end zone.

But, “I didn’t know what to expect,” recalled Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart Saturday. “I knew the size. He matches up well with Jake, the things he does well and the things Jake does well. It wasn’t like he had just an unbelievable camp. We were like shoot, I don’t know what this guy is going to be. Is he going to be The Guy or one of the guys?”

Cager was very much The Guy Saturday. Returning from shoulder and rib injuries that cost him the last couple weeks, he put together a career-best performance in Georgia’s 24-17 victory over Florida.

His vitals: Seven catches, 132 yards, the 52-yard scoring reception that provided the winning margin. And of Georgia’s nine third-down completions that extended drives, Cager pulled in a third of them.

VIDEO: Georgia coach Kirby Smart talks about beating the rival Gators Saturday. Video by Chip Towers.

Point proven. Georgia is a much better offensive team when Cager is on the field and has full use of all his ball-and-socket joints.

“He makes this offense better,” quarterback Jake Fromm said. “He ups the game of everyone around him. Really smart, really high-IQ football player.” 

Cager played in the first half of the Oct. 12 loss to South Carolina with a separated shoulder, until he reaggravated that and compounded it with rib issues. He missed the next week against Kentucky. With the benefit of a week off before this rivalry match-up with the Gators, a game that would establish supremacy in the SEC East, Cager had no intention of missing more time.

“I wasn’t going to miss this game for anything. If I had a broken leg I was going to play,” he said.

“I never doubted Lawrence would play,” Smart said. “I had no idea what role that would take on. I didn’t know how many hits he’d be able to take, how many blocks he’d be able to make. He’s a warrior, he’s a competitor, I never doubted that. I know he played big.

“He was determined from the start. He was on the side running, wearing Kevlar pads, rehabbed every day, did extra. He couldn’t do any more than he did to get out there and play. His biggest concern to me was conditioning. He had to come out several plays, there some plays we would have liked to have gotten to him that he wasn’t able to sustain.”

Photos:  The game The scene 

No worries, Cager had plenty of presence Saturday.

And when he broke lose down one sideline for the touchdown five minutes into the fourth quarter – “A great play call by (offensive coordinator James Coley), we had practiced it all week, a new play that we thought we could get it in there on man coverage,” Cager said – his day was pretty much complete. There was no question about Georgia receivers being able to get separation for he was as all alone as a patient in quarantine. There were no more concerns about Florida’s cadre of talented receivers, because it was grad transfer at Georgia who had the biggest day of anyone.

There has been plenty of static concerning the Bulldogs receivers, the noise that these players keep saying they are good at ignoring.

Cager reiterated how good he is at noise-cancelling, while at the same time repeating at length just what that noise entails.

“A lot of people say we have no game-changers, no play-makers,” he said. “I heard during the South Carolina broadcast how no one could get open. To me, that’s like, c’mon man. You learned to shut it out, being a vet. You learn as you keep going to block that stuff out.”
“I know all those guys over there, they are a great corps,” he said, speaking of the Gator receivers. “No disrespect, they are a great team over there. We think we’re a great team as well and that’s what we came out and showed.”

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Cager came to Georgia off what was a career-best year at Miami – 21 catches, 374 yards and six touchdowns. He was drawn to Georgia by Coley, a Hurricanes coordinator in 2015, and by a good relationship with Smart. With his performance Saturday, he has surpassed the bulk of those numbers. He now has 26 catches, 377 yards with four games left on Georgia’s schedule.

Saturday seemed the perfect time for him to reflect on his choice of Georgia and declare, “This obviously was the best decision I could have ever made in my life.”

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