One Day Away

ATHENS - With one day remaining until Georgia's season-opener at Clemson, Connor Norman is ready to take on his new role.

Norman, a senior from Duluth, landed himself in a more inclusive safety role after years of hard work and the suspension of Josh Harvey-Clemons. Georgia will be without Harvey-Clemons against Clemson due to his involvement in a marijuana-related incident in May. Nonetheless, Norman is embracing the opportunity.

"It's exciting to get the opportunity to play," Norman said. "I've worked hard over the past four years of college and I'm excited for the opportunity to contribute in a bigger role now."

Norman started his career as a member of Presbyterian College's football team in 2009, but has spent the past few years learning what SEC football is all about. He hasn't been a stranger to the field, though. In 2012 Norman appeared in 14 games, made two starts and recorded 18 tackles for the Dawgs.

"The speed of the game was a lot different over here, and the magnitude of football in division one is a lot bigger than where I was," Norman said.

Bigger school, bigger players, faster game speed and so on. But, Norman has learned to adjust to Georgia's style of play and he's starting to build chemistry with his fellow safeties.

One of those safeties in particular is Tray Matthews. Matthews, a freshman from Newnan, Ga., is another new face fans will see on Georgia's defense come Saturday. The two haven't had much of a chance to play together lately due to Matthews' shoulder and hamstring injuries, but they've had enough time to learn to communicate.

"I think it's definitely developed over the spring and fall," Norman said. "It's just getting comfortable out there with each other. The more you're out there with each other the better you feel."

If you're a new fan, or just a fan that hasn't heard much about Norman, you're probably wondering what he brings to Georgia's defense.

"Hopefully I bring dependability and consistency out there, and the ability to help the young guys who are out on the field," Norman said.

Mark Richt agrees with Norman, and compared him to a former Bulldog mentor turned graduate assistant.

"Connor understands the system well and he's got the ability to communicate that to the guys who don't know it as well," Richt said. "Christian Robinson was that way for our linebackers last year. I think he's done a very good job for us."

Those are big shoes to fill for Norman when it comes to being a player/coach on the field. He's been around long enough to know what he needs to do out there, and says even the younger guys are starting to catch up as the season progresses.

"It's a little strange looking around and knowing you're one of the older guys out here," Norman said. "But like I said, we came together pretty quick as a defense and everyone's been working hard to create that chemistry."

Arguably the biggest game of Norman's career will be Clemson, and it's got all the makings of a memorable match-up.

"It's an electric atmosphere. They're fired up in there and it's going to be crazy," Norman said. "They've got a huge fan base so it's going to be loud. That's exciting and it's what you want for the first game."

Todd Grantham knows a little about Clemson's atmosphere, but said it won't be much of a shock after playing between the hedges.

"The field noise and size is the same," Grantham said. "If we were at home it would be a little bit louder, but the field's the same wherever you play."

Grantham's defense will have the task of stopping quarterback Tajh Boyd, a name it's probably tired of hearing by now, but he'll be the guy to watch.

"They're an explosive offense," Grantham said. "Their offensive line is a group that works well together. Their skill guys are talented and can make guys miss, and the quarterback can make guys miss and make things happen. He reminds me a little bit of Donovan McNabb when he was playing at Syracuse."

Much like McNabb, Boyd is a guy who can pick defenses apart, then hit them with the home run ball. Some of the young guys like Matthews will have to keep an eye out for those. At the end of the day, Grantham says his defense has one goal.

"Part of the process of playing at the level we want them to play at is understanding to do your job," Grantham said. "When that play's over go to the next play. That's the main thing."

In other words, if Georgia gets beat downfield it will have to move on to the next play, simply put. Some young guys who have been successful learning that trait are freshmen cornerbacks Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins. Those are two players destined for early playing time.

"They've definitely worked hard and earned the opportunity to be out there," Norman said. "You can ask any of the guys on our defense."

Grantham is a coach needs to see a guy fully commit to trust them, and it says a lot about the new guys on defense that he's warmed up to them so quickly.

"I'm excited. We've got some guys who have invested a lot into this season and worked hard," Grantham said. "They'll get the opportunity to play and showcase their talents. We've just got to go play."

On the other end of the spectrum, Clemson returns a few more starters on its defense than Georgia. Mike Bobo said Clemson plays fast, as stated before, and he was highly-impressed watching the Tigers defeat LSU 25-24 in last year's Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

"They've got six, probably seven or eight back that played a lot last year," Bobo said. "In that game I saw guys playing hard, and playing hard is always a sign of a good defense."

With a hard-fought win like that, some momentum is bound to carry over into Clemson's season-opener.

"That game's going to give them confidence going into this year," Bobo said. "There are a lot of things they can clean up from last year's package, and there's a lot of things they're going to be able to add because of familiarity. I expect a hungry defense that's going to fly around and play fast."

Even more of a reason to be hungry; Clemson hasn't played Georgia since 2003 when it was shutout 30-0 by the Dawgs. That's a rivalry worth remembering. Bobo's watched a few Clemson-Georgia games on TV, and doesn't expect the intensity to fade.

"Just watching it on TV I remember it being a big game," Bobo said. "I always remember a hard fought game, and it reminds me of an SEC football game."

One key area for Georgia's offense will be avoiding turnovers. Bobo explained how his offense can play aggressively without turning the ball over numerous times.

"The guys have to play football," Bobo said. I don't want them to play scared. You just have to have a healthy respect for the football."

With two high-powered offenses, Bobo's game plan is simple - make plays. That's all Bobo asks.

"I think it's going to come down to guys making plays in one on one situations, and we've got to come up with our fair share," Bobo said.

Finally, there's a lot of noise being made about Saturday's game. There has been for months. Regardless of all that, Norman is flying under the radar. On Saturday Norman will be one of the first guys on the field. That hasn't been easy for him to achieve.

"Hard work," Norman said. "Plain and simple. Going after what you want and going after your dreams. I'm a regular guy, I'm out here playing football."

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