Georgia could be down two key players in its SEC opener against South Carolina.
Ladd McConkey has dealt with a back injury that’s prevented him from playing this season. Safety Javon Bullard injured his ankle during Saturday’s victory over Ball State and has been limited in practice. Bullard seems likelier to play than McConkey, though there’s a real chance both miss the game.
McConkey led all Bulldogs receivers with 762 yards last season (second on the team behind tight end Brock Bowers). Coach Kirby Smart, in his latest update Tuesday, said McConkey is “trying to come back and we’re trying to figure out all we can do to speed that process up.”
Georgia didn’t need to be at full strength during its first two weeks against Tennessee-Martin and Ball State. Breakout star Mekhi Mews led Georgia wideouts in week 1 with three catches for 75 yards. Speedster Arian Smith led Bulldogs receivers with two catches for 50 yards last weekend. While South Carolina isn’t among the SEC’s top teams, it’s a seismic step up from the previous two opponents.
“We have guys that have similar skill sets, but they don’t have the experience (of McConkey),” Smart said. “We’ve got guys capable of filling the void left by Ladd, but we don’t have guys with the experience in this offense. Two years, 15 games a year, 30 games of experience is just immense, so that’s the part we missed.
Smart said Bullard “wasn’t able to do a lot” in practice, saying he didn’t know when Bullard could play again. On a defense again stacked with NFL-caliber players, Bullard is among the best. Last season, he had 46 tackles with two interceptions and 3.5 sacks. He was the defensive MVP of the College Football Playoff semifinal and championship games.
Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler will surely test Georgia’s secondary with his powerful arm and willingness to throw down the field, especially if the team is missing Bullard. Junior David Daniel-Sisavanh, a Woodstock native, and senior Dan Jackson, from Gainesville, provide depth in Bullard’s absence. Daniel-Sisavanh spent the past two years as a reserve but played in 14 games last season. Fellow defensive back Kamari Lassiter lauded Daniel-Sisavanh’s physical nature.
“He’s very instinctive,” Smart said. “He’s got good speed. For two years he’s come in in situational football. I mean Dime he’s played, third down he’s played, late in games he’s played. He has played well, and he has had some really big hits. He had a hit against Oregon last year, it was a good hit. He had a hit against South Carolina late in the game. He has shown up and played when asked to, and he’s played on special teams. He is a product of development, growth, intelligence, and persistence.”
Credit: Sarah K. Spencer/AJC
Smart also said that junior offensive lineman Austin Blaske (MCL sprain) might be available Saturday. “He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve been around, so he’s trying to speed up that recovery and make himself available for this game,” Smart said. Senior running back Daijun Edwards (MCL sprain) is also expected to play after missing the first two games.
Since Alabama lost to Texas in Tuscaloosa last weekend, the Bulldogs will carry the nation’s longest home winning streak into Saturday (20 straight victories). While South Carolina was the last team to defeat Georgia in Athens – in October 2019 – the Gamecocks have been outscored in head-to-head matchups against the Bulldogs 133-36 over the past three years.
Georgia is 30-9 all-time against South Carolina at home.
Gabriel Burns is a general assignment reporter and features writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. After four years on the Braves beat, he's expanded his horizons and covers all sports. You'll find him writing about MLB, NFL, NBA, college football and other Atlanta-centric happenings.