Only Vanderbilt’s A.J. Swann has thrown for more yards (766) in the SEC and that’s in three games. This past Saturday, Rattler completed 25-of-27 passes for 345 yards and three scores.
The senior from Phoenix is on fire.
“He’s got elite arm talent, I can tell you that,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He can make the touch throws, deep, vertical, back-shoulder throws. He’s thrown a couple field outs, like the throw he had against Clemson last year on third and 10, it was a rope. So he’s very elusive, very accurate with the ball and hard to finish on. Tremendous player.”
Such an assessment is not uncommon for Rattler. The 6-foot-1, 217-pound senior has been hearing similar praise since he first signed with Oklahoma as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country in 2019.
But his college career has been up-and-down since then. Ultimately, Rattler lost his starting job with the Sooners in 2021, which prompted a transfer to South Carolina before last season. His first year with the Gamecocks was equally uneven, with flashes of brilliance interrupted by occasional head-scratching perplexity.
Nowhere was that more apparent than last September when Rattler faced the Bulldogs for the first time. He completed only 13 of 25 passes for 118 yards and threw two of the Gamecocks’ three interceptions as Georgia rolled 48-7 in Williams-Brice Stadium.
None of that has affected the Bulldogs’ appreciation or respect for Rattler. As ever, for them it’s not about what happened last year, but what the video they’re studying this week tells them. And it tells them to be on top of their game.
The one bugaboo that’s apparent with the Gamecocks’ offense under Rattler so far this season is quarterback protection. He has been sacked 10 times for loss of 66 yards in the first two games – including 9 in a 31-17 loss to North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Kickoff Classic in Charlotte in Week 1.
“We’ll try to make him uncomfortable in the pocket, get him off his landmarks,” Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson said. “We know he can be a mobile quarterback at times, but they want to use his arm.”
Said defensive back Tykee Smith: “It’s just about us executing the game plan the coaches give to us. Our staff does a real good job of getting us in the right stuff for what they’re going to call and what they’re going to run. That’s basically it.”
Smart said he wishes it was that simple.
“It’s not just Rattler; it’s all the guys around him,” Georgia’s head coach said. “They have an elite group of wide receivers and tight-ends that they use. … They’ve got a lot of guys that can play the ball down the field. I mean, the explosive plays they’ve made in the last, I don’t know, four to five games of theirs is pretty special. Pretty elite.”
What about Bullard, McConkey?
Georgia has been without star flanker Ladd McConkey (back) and running back Daijun Edwards (knee) in the first two games. But losing safety Javon Bullard to an ankle injury early against Ball State might be the most problematic on the Bulldogs’ injury front.
Bullard’s status for Saturday’s game remains decided uncertain.
“He will not practice today, I do know that,” Smart said before Monday’s practice. “But as far as where he is, probably won’t know until Wednesday’s practice whether he’s going to be able to go or not. We’ve had guys in that position with that similar injury being able to play. But I really have no clue until we approach the week.”
Smart said they “expect Daijun to go.” The leading returning rusher from last year dressed out and warmed up last Saturday but did not play.
McConkey remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma. The Bulldogs can’t seem to solve a sporadic back-spasming issue for the 6-foot, 185-pound junior from Chatsworth.
“Day-by-day,” Smart said. “We’re trying everything we can to get him back. He’s trying everything he can to get him back. I don’t really know how to answer other than I don’t know any more than I knew Saturday.”
He said redshirt freshman Christen Miller (cervical sprain) will play.
Speaking of Gamecocks
As has long been the case, South Carolina tends to keep a different practice schedule than most SEC teams. The Gamecocks (1-1) practiced late Sunday evening but took Monday off. They will be back on their practice fields on Tuesday.
Coach Shane Beamer was asked Sunday about the challenge facing his team as it visits Athens this week. “It’s always about us,” Beamer said. “We always say that around here and it’s the truth. … We know what kind of challenge that will be over in Athens. But we just need to make sure that everybody on our team, every player, every coach, is doing everything they can. What do we need to do to be at our best this week? What do we need to do to play well? Focus on those things.”