Jeremy Thomas, Daryl Smith and the Yellow Jackets' Keyaron Fox were the starting linebackers for Georgia's high school all-star team in the 1999 Georgia-Florida All-Star game and developed a friendship. So it's nice that on this holiday weekend, Thomas and Smith will be able to spend so much time together.
When the No. 5 Bulldogs (9-2) play the Yellow Jackets (6-5) Saturday in
Grant Field, the two players will meet again - and again - and again. It
won't, however, be a friendly, "how-ya-doin'" kind of exchange.
Fullbacks and middle linebackers wage mostly unseen battles throughout
every college football game, repeatedly throwing their bodies into one
another in a battle for turf - sometimes just inches of it.
"That's one of the biggest matchups of the game, in my opinion, the
fullback vs. the middle linebacker," Thomas said. "That's a physical
block, too. Sometimes outside I'll cut the guy down, but that is
straight up, man-on-man."
Georgia coach Mark Richt estimates 90 percent of the time Thomas is in
the game, his first responsibility is to block a linebacker and most of
those times, it's the middle linebacker.
"The fullback pretty much has to know where the Mike (middle
linebacker) is all the time," Bulldog running backs coach Ken Rucker
said. "The Mike is going to take him to his work. They're kind of the
center of attention."
The Bulldogs' most productive rushing play this season has been their
sprint draw, and they use the same formation for many of their passing
plays. In either situation, Thomas' job is to find the middle linebacker
and hit him - hard.
The fullback-middle linebacker matchup is so ingrained into players
that Richt used the tendency to devise one of his most successful plays.
Georgia fans know it as P-44 Haynes, the play the Bulldogs used to upset
Tennessee in 2001.
The play works because the middle linebacker is so accustomed to being
blocked by the fullback that he'll do anything to avoid the fullback. In
P-44 Haynes, the fullback fakes a quick blocking attempt and slips past
the middle linebacker. Almost without fail, he'll be wide open in the
middle of the field. The play has scored for Richt the last five times
he's called it, including three times at Georgia.
This week, Thomas, a 5-foot-11, 238-pound junior, will be matched
against Smith, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior. At first glance, it seems
like a mismatch, an All-ACC first-team selection against the Bulldogs'
"He's definitely one of the best (in ACC), maybe the best,"
of Smith. "He'll probably go to the (NFL) so he can't be that bad,
right? I've got tons of respect for him and Fox and all those boys."
Georgia's coaches like their chances, too. Thomas grades out highly on
his blocking assignments most weeks, and he's shown a willingness to
throw himself repeatedly into whoever is in front of him.
He missed this year's UAB game due to a concussion. He suffered the
injury on the first play of the preceding game but played the remainder
of the game despite dizziness. That illustrates what life is like for a
"Jeremy's not going to run as fast as some of the athletes we face
every week," Rucker said, "but he's a good athlete."
Thomas gets the occasional carry - 17 this year for 46 yards - and
catches a pass now and again - six for 97 yards. But most of the time,
he's just a battering ram.
"I think he's growing into an outstanding college fullback,"
said. "Fullback fits his makeup. It fits him to a T."
Looking Forward to Clash
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