Georgia’s defensive line coach says his team can hold up against the Razorbacks’ run-heavy attack even without injured starting tackles Gerald Anderson and Kedric Golston. Whether they will or not depends on a group made up of role players who now must step into much bigger roles - Ray Gant, Darrius Swain, Dale Dixson, Jeff Owens and Marquis Elmore.
“They all were signed at Georgia, so obviously we thought they could be good players,” Garner said. “Now they just need to show up and show the world I’m not a very good coach and I should have been playing them more in the first place.”
Arkansas, which plays in Sanford Stadium at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, leads the SEC and is sixth in the nation in rushing offense with 263.3 yards per game, nearly 75 more than its closest competitor in the conference. (The Razorbacks are averaging 193 yards per game against SEC competition.) Georgia also will be without starting middle linebacker Tony Taylor against the ‘Hogs.
“I’m sure they’re looking at, ‘Hey, they’ve got their two starting defensive tackles out. We’re going to run it right down their throat and see how they respond,’” Garner said.
Gant said he feels the most responsibility to take over the leadership role of seniors Golston and Anderson, he said.
“Now that they’re both gone, I feel a tremendous responsibility not only to myself but to my coaches and my teammates to finally get over that barrier and mature mentally as well as on the field in my leadership skills,” he said.
Gant is the only player of the group to be penciled into a starting spot for Saturday’s game. He will start at nose tackle, and the other tackle spot will be filled either by the senior Swain, the true freshman Owens or the fast-rising Dixson, Garner said. Marquis Elmore will be in the rotation as a reserve.
“This week of practice is going to be critical,” Garner said. “Hopefully, somebody is going to step up.”
Of the group of potential starters, Owens has the most experience this year with eight tackles and half a sack. Swain’s biggest attribute is that he’s the biggest of the group. With at least 330 pounds on his frame, he’s a natural run-stopper. The wild card is Dixson, a junior from Garland, Texas, who hadn’t shown the team much until being forced into action against Vanderbilt.
“One guy that played better than we thought he could play was Dale Dixson,” Coach Mark Richt said.
Dixson had two tackles, including one for a loss against the Commodores
“It’s my job to step in when someone is down. That’s why I practice,” Dixson said. “I feel whoever is put in is going to be willing and able to play. We practice hard, each and every one of us. If it’s me, I’ll be more than able to step in and play.”
Eagerness is one thing, but experience is another. Dixson, Owens and Elmore have 20 career tackles combined. Still, it’s a confident group.
“There is definitely not a lack of talent in our room,” Gant said. “Everybody in our room is capable of being a big-time player. It’s just whether or not we choose to reach our potential.”
Player Class (Injury)
Kedric Golston Senior (Elbow)
Gerald Anderson Senior (Concussion)
Player Class (Career tackles)
Dale Dixson Junior (7)
Marquis Elmore Junior (5)
Ray Gant Junior (54)
Jeff Owens Freshman (8)
Darrius Swain Senior (89)