Georgia will rely on Youth against Tigers

CLEMSON, S.C. — Today's game, as far as Georgia is concerned, seems to revolve around two words: Stepping up.And no position or unit is exempt from that need.The offensive line has little experience. The defensive line is without two key players.

STADIUM: Memorial Stadium (81,473), Clemson, S.C.
TICKETS: Sold out
KICKOFF WEATHER: Mostly sunny, around 87 degrees, 20 percent chance of rain, humidity around 75 percent
SERIES: Georgia leads, 40-17-4
LAST MEETING: Georgia won 31-28 in 2002.
ODDS: Georgia by 2 1/2.
INJURIES: Georgia — NT Gerald Anderson (neck sprain) and TB Kregg Lumpkin (hamstring) are probable; DT Dale Dixson (concussion) is questionable; DE Will Thompson (ankle), WR Cedric Haywood (knee/ACL) DE Marquis Elmore (ankle sprain), DE Preston Pannell (shoulder), C Michael Turner (shoulder), DT Ken Veal (ankle), FS Greg Blue (knee), ROV Kentrell Curry (leg) and DT Darrell Holmes are out. Clemson — DT Todd McClinton (seizures) is out. UP NEXT: Clemson hosts Furman, Sept. 6, 5 p.m.; Georgia hosts Middle Tennessee State, Sept. 6, 1 p.m. 

Two of the backup linebackers are true freshmen. There's almost no experience behind the starters in the secondary and at wide receiver. None of the running backs are returning starters.

And there are the little matters of 90-degree heat and 83,000 people mostly attired in orange.

As Georgia players and coaches discussed injuries and suspensions the past few weeks, they were aware of what several Bulldogs need to do for them to have a chance to beat Clemson:

"The young guys are stepping up and filling in nicely," said linebacker-turned-safety Thomas Davis.

"People have to step up and fill those roles those players left," said guard Josh Brock.

"Everybody knows their job and that they've got to pick up the slack in the first part of the season," offered senior cornerback Bruce Thornton.Get the picture?

The Bulldogs will be without two proven starters and three players of starting capability, plus a slew of other backups who would see quality time.

"As far as a team," said Georgia coach Mark Richt, "it's as beat up as I can remember."

Eight more players are suspended, three of whom — defensive backs Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter plus fullback Chris Hickman — have the ability to start.

But the list of Bullpups who falling into the "need to step up" file is long.

The Bulldogs will play several true freshmen, maybe nearly a dozen: offensive linemen Ken Shackleford, Fernando Velasco, and Nick Jones; linebackers Danny Verdun-Wheeler and Des Williams; defensive backs Paul Oliver, Mikey Henderson, and Thomas Flowers; running back Kregg Lumpkin; wide receiver Sean Bailey; and kicker Andy Bailey.

Several redshirt freshmen will likely make their Bulldog debuts as well: defensive linemen Ray Gant, Dale Dixson, Quentin Moses and Marcus Jackson; defensive backs Olaolu Sanni-Osomo; offensive lineman Daniel Inman; tailback Michael Cooper and punter Gordon Ely-Kelso. Others in the rotation will b playing for the first time as well.

"We've got enough first-teamers that know what to do," said Richt. "I think our first units are in pretty good shape. After that, we've got a lot of young guys that really aren't sure of themselves."

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden isn't putting much stock into Georgia's problems."The way they've recruited the last five or six years," he said, "there won't be much separation between their first and second team."

Oh yeah, all these youngsters will have their coming out party at Death Valley, one of college football most storied venues.

"It's as loud as any place I've been when they're cranked up, and they're gonna be," said Richt. "Looking at tape of a couple games last year, you could see opponents at Clemson trying very desperately trying to hear what's going on."

As for the game itself, Clemson has one advantage with its passing game in that Georgia's secondary has no proven depth, and the Tigers are deep at receiver for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Clemson has some experience on defense that will likely put major pressure on Georgia's young — there's not a junior to be found anywhere — offensive line.

But the Tigers may have some growing pains of their own, for they're expected to unveil more of a run-oriented I-formation offense — with some no-huddle — than Bowden has been known for.

While Bowden says Georgia has better talent than Clemson, the Tigers have the advantage of experienced depth. Bulldog starts won't be lacking action, and who plays with more gas in the tank the longest will probably win.

"We've got a concern about how much fuel we're going to have as a team," said Richt. "Can we really fight the full 60 minutes or not? I don't know, but that's probably my biggest concern right now."

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