With quarterback Ian Book and Notre Dame’s versatile offense between the hedges Saturday, the Bulldogs certainly need all hands on deck. But it’s increasingly looking as if they might be without one of their best cornerbacks.
Coach Kirby Smart said Tyson Campbell, a sophomore cornerback and 5-star recruit, was “pushing through” Tuesday’s closed practice after spraining a foot against Arkansas State on Saturday.
“He was out there today, trying to help us,” Smart said. “He’s mentally getting prepared, but he’s not able to take a lot of reps.”
Anything short of 100 percent might be a gamble against Notre Dame. The No. 7-ranked Fighting Irish (2-0) will bring in the most balanced and explosive attack Georgia has seen this season.
In two games against FBS competition so far this season, Book leads all Power 5 quarterbacks in yards per completion, at 19.07. The 6-foot, 212-pound senior also happens to be one of the more elusive signal-callers in football. He’s a true dual-threat quarterback, but his best work usually comes on ad-lib runs and passes rather than designed plays.
Meanwhile, the Notre Dame skill players have averaged 20.2 yards after the catch. Not surprisingly, that also is the best among Power 5 teams.
So, while the Bulldogs are understandably focused on havoc this season, wanting to pick off passes and pressure the quarterback, there’s pressure on them not to be overzealous, which can also be a quandary.
“He can make you right every play,” Smart said of Book. “The coach, he could call a bad call and the kid will bail him out and scramble 10 yards. He could call the perfect call, and he’ll bail him out of that, too. It’s nice when you’ve got a guy that can make somebody miss, whether it’s a pressure, whether it’s a three-man rush, whether it’s a four-man rush. I mean he can make you right.”
The Bulldogs have made 47 havoc plays in three games. That’s 24.7 percent, which exceeds the goal of 20 percent that Smart set for the season.
But that might not necessarily be the end goal against the Irish. Georgia will have to be Smart about how they attack the Irish.
“I think you can still be aggressive; you’ve just (can’t) rush past the quarterback,” said sophomore outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari, who ranks among five Georgia players with 1.5 sacks. “He can get out of the pocket and run. He’s real fast and athletic.”
But Book prefers passing to running, so his eyes are always downfield. He accounted for six touchdowns Saturday in the Fighting Irish’s 66-14 win over New Mexico and hasn’t thrown an interception.
Campbell, who started nine games as a freshman last season, has been playing well for the Bulldogs at cornerback this season. His three pass break-ups so far already exceeded all he had last season.
But Georgia has options at corner, and Smart already has shown he’s not afraid to use them. First-year players D.J. Daniel, a junior college transfer, and Tyrique Stevenson, a 5-star signee, have taken a lot of snaps in the first three games.
“I think all four of those guys have played well,” Smart said. “Tyrique Stevenson has played well out there, too. We want to play all those guys. We’ll assess who has the best week of practices and play those guys. I’ve been very pleased with all four of them.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.