When D.J. Shockley was quarterbacking his father's team at North Clayton High School, he never got a chance to play in the Georgia Dome. The state high school semifinals were held there, but Shockley's team never made it that far. The only time he's been healthy enough to play in the dome with the Bulldogs was in 2002, and he only saw the field for two series as Georgia won its first conference title in 20 years. Now, finally, it's his turn. "It's been a huge dream of mine," he said. It's been a dream that Shockley deserves to realize his teammates say, particularly after he waited patiently for four seasons behind starter David Greene. "He's done a wonderful job," sophomore running back Thomas Brown said. "I'm just so happy for him because he's worked so hard and so patiently." Shockley hasn't allowed himself to think what might have been if he could have started more than one season in college. He leads the SEC in passing efficiency this year, having thrown for 2,199 yards, 19 touchdowns and just five interceptions. "Who knows what would have happen if you had another year," he said. "I‘m just glad I had the opportunity." While he shares some attributes with Russell, Shockley is a more accurate passer and a more elusive runner out of the pocket than LSU's quarterback. And, being a senior, he feels a very heavy burden coming into this game. "One thing my dad always told me, ‘When people expect something out of you, don't disappoint them,'" he said.
There are lots of problems for teams getting ready to face Russell. It starts with finding a suitable stand-in. "We can't simulate him unless we have Leonard Pope play scout team quarterback," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. The Tigers' 6-foot-6, 252-pound quarterback is a lot of man, not to mention one of the best signal-callers in the league. "He's as smooth as they get," said Georgia quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo, who made an in-home visit during Russell's recruiting. Among other things, the sophomore probably has the strongest arm in the SEC, if not the conference. "I don't know (how far he can throw it), but it's a long way," Bobo said. "I'd bet it's over 80 yards. I bet he'll play a long time in the NFL." Last season, Russell rotated with senior Marcus Randall, but he's clearly the man now. And he likes that much better. "Last year, going in and out of the game you never could really get things going," he said. "Once you got things going, any little mistake and it was time to come out." He also feels like first-year coach Les Miles and Miles' staff are more accepting of his style of play, which includes breaking out of the pocket to run at times. Russell's only real weakness is that he's still a sophomore, and he will make bad decisions and throw bad passes. He has thrown eight interceptions this year, more than all but three of the league's top 10 quarterback. "People can make the argument that he hasn't played the greatest at times, but you look at his starting record," LSU defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "And when we've needed big plays, he's been there. I think he's really taken the starting job and run with it."