Key Georgia players sidelined heading into SEC Championship

Georgia football-offensive line-2021
caption arrowCaption
Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer (69) during the Duke’s Mayo Classic against Clemson at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC, on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (photo by Rob Davis)

Credit: Rob Davis

Credit: Rob Davis

ATHENS – Georgia has two primary and fairly significant injury situations heading into its SEC Championship game matchup with Alabama. The status of both left tackle Jamaree Salyer and safety Christopher Smith is very much in the air.

Salyer, a senior who started the first eight games of the season, hasn’t played in the last four due to a sprained foot. He was expected to play against Georgia Tech this past Saturday, but suffered “a little setback” in practice, according to coach Kirby Smart.

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Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer suffered “a little setback” in practice, according to coach Kirby Smart.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia

Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer suffered “a little setback” in practice, according to coach Kirby Smart.
caption arrowCaption
Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer suffered “a little setback” in practice, according to coach Kirby Smart.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia

Credit: Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia

“That was minor, but it was enough that he couldn’t play this past week,” Smart said at his Monday press conference. “I thought he was going to play against Georgia Tech. But once he had a setback it was a little tougher for him to. We’ll find out where he’s at. It’s really up to how he practices and what he does.”

Salyer had played almost flawlessly at left tackle, not allowing sack all season and virtually never missing an assignment.

Smart said the plan was for Salyer to practice on Monday.

The outlook is even more uncertain for Smith.

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Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei misses a tackle after Georgia defensive back Christopher Smith intercepted a pass intended for Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross and returns it for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead during the second quarter on Sept 4 in Charlotte. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei misses a tackle after Georgia defensive back Christopher Smith intercepted a pass intended for Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross and returns it for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead during the second quarter on Sept 4 in Charlotte.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
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Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei misses a tackle after Georgia defensive back Christopher Smith intercepted a pass intended for Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross and returns it for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead during the second quarter on Sept 4 in Charlotte. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The starter alongside Lewis Cine for eight of nine games, Smith has missed the last two with knee injury suffered in practice the week of the 11th game.

“Hopeful he’s able to go today,” Smart said. “He did some running yesterday, and we’re hopeful to get him back. But again, until I see it in practice, I won’t know.”

Smith not only is an experienced safety who had started 14 games dating back to last season, but he's also excellent in pass coverage. He's tied for the team lead with two interceptions, including a 74-yard touchdown return against Clemson.

Those situations are particularly vexing because of the positions with regard to matching up with Alabama. Salyer had played almost flawlessly at left tackle, not allowing sack all season and virtually never missing an assignment. Redshirt freshman Broderick Jones, his replacement, is an excellent player and maybe even an upgrade in terms of size and athleticism. But if the former 5-star recruit from Lithonia has one bugaboo, it’s missed assignments. That could prove disastrous against the Crimson Tide and All-American outside linebacker Will Anderson (86 tackles, 30.5 TFLs, 14.5 sacks).

Meanwhile, Smith not only is an experienced safety who had started 14 games dating back to last season, but he’s also excellent in pass coverage. He’s tied for the team lead with two interceptions, including a 74-yard touchdown return against Clemson.

Having a full-speed to go against Alabama’s high-octane passing attack led by receivers John Metchie (90 receptions-1,045 yards-7 TDs) and Jameson Williams (61-1,261-13) certainly would be helpful. As it is, the Bulldogs will be relying on Dan Jackson, a 6-1, 190-pound sophomore walkon from Gainesville.

Georgia is also hoping that wide receiver/punt returner Kearis Jackson (ribs) and running back Kendall Milton (knee) can make a comeback this week. Milton has been out five games, while Jackson was hurt in the first half against Tech.

What’s next for UGA?

After the Georgia Bulldogs’ first loss of the season to Alabama, what happens next?

The Bulldogs fell from No. 1 to No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings and are set to face No. 2. Michigan (12-1) in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

Journalists from the AJC are providing complete coverage of the SEC Championship and the decisions on Sunday about the College Football Playoffs.

Readers will find updated coverage in print and ePaper editions, the AJC app and on ajc.com.

Sunday ePaper College Football Extra: Expanded photos and coverage of UGA and the SEC Championship

On Twitter: Follow UGA reporter Chip Towers @ctowersajc, @AJCSports and @ajc

On Facebook: UGASportsNewsNow

On Instagram: @ajcnews

Championship Saturday: Scores from all the conference title games

Latest UGA updates

Georgia’s defense making history

Credit Cole Cubelic for the stat of the day for Georgia defense. The ESPN college football analyst and sideline reporter pointed out that the Bulldogs could double their 83 points allowed this season (166) and still be leading the nation in scoring defense.

As it is, Georgia is allowing 6.9 points per game. That is the lowest average allowed since Brian Bosworth’s Oklahoma Sooners gave up just 6.8 points in 1986.

The crazy thing about it, middle linebacker and undesignated captain Nakobe Dean, all those cheap, late touchdowns the defensive reserves gave up late in blowout games this season. Rounding up, the Bulldogs’ won their 12 games by an average score of 41-7. Nearly half of their points allowed (40) were scored in the fourth quarter.

“Great pride comes with that,” Dean said Monday. “The goals that we set every week, our scoring goals and what we want to do on defense, we take great pride on accomplishing those goals.”

As for scoring, every week the goal of the Georgia defense is zero points. It has been achieved three times. It’s the first time since 1981 that the Bulldogs recorded three shutouts.

They said it

Georgia senior defensive tackle Jordan Davis, asked how Smart has changed since Davis arrived as a freshman in 2018: “I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older, but in 2018 I thought, ‘Man, he yells a lot. But I now I think it’s moreso that he’s not yelling at me. I guess that’s a big change.”

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