“I don’t want to hear it again,” Florida head coach Urban Meyer said. “I get very disappointed when I see some player act unsure about what’s going on.”
The No. 9 Gators play No. 20 Georgia at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. It’s the eighth game of the season for both teams, the time when freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore and first-year starters are expected to play like veterans, Meyer said.
Being young “is officially done,” he said.
Growing pains are going around in the SEC. It’s not just Georgia that has had to deal with freshman mistakes. The Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2 SEC) are starting two true freshmen and a redshirt freshman on the offensive line, and that fact has come up several times when explaining the team’s struggles.
There’s not much sympathy, though, to be had in a league where plenty of teams are dealing with the same issues. In fact, Florida and Auburn each have it worse than Georgia.
The Gators (5-2, 3-2) have played 33 freshmen, including 18 true freshmen, and they have just 21 scholarship upperclassmen on their roster, the fewest in the SEC. Auburn (5-3, 3-2) has played 26 freshmen and has started three true freshmen on the offensive line.
Several Georgia players said this week that it’s time for them to stop relying on youth as a crutch.
“We can’t hear the ‘too young’ excuse anymore,” linebacker Brandon Miller “There shouldn’t be any (excuses) at all.”
But it’s not that simple, Georgia head coach Mark Richt said.
“I think from a scheme point-of-view you feel much better about (the young players),” he said. “From a physical point of view, you’ve always got to watch them because they are still young bodies. They haven’t had two or three years to build their bodies up.”
Freshmen linemen Trinton Sturdivant, Clint Boling and Chris Davis all ought to be at least 20 pounds heavier and stronger next year, Richt said.
“It’s one thing to know exactly where to stick your hat and to run your feet properly, it’s another thing to have (some weight) in front of your cleats,” Richt said. “They are not going to get bigger and stronger their true freshmen year.”
Georgia has played five true freshmen and 22 freshmen overall this year. Forty-nine percent of the 81 players who have seen the field are underclassmen.
Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford had to play his way into shape as a true freshman last year, and he doesn’t think there’s any one rule for when young players can be considered veterans.
“I think it’s different for every player and every position really,” he said. “If you’re a running back or a receiver, you don’t have to think about anybody but what you’re trying to do.”
Miller thinks three games is enough to quit playing like a freshman. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said the first big game should to do it.
Tight end Tripp Chandler thinks it’s more complicated than that. It’s about experiencing a wide range of things, Chandler said, like winning a big game and losing a big game and overcoming a halftime deficit. The Bulldogs have crossed all those milestones off their list this season.
“I don’t think there are too many different situations they can face,” he said, “but you need to face those situations three or four or five times to really handle them on a consistent and regular basis.”
According to freshman fullback Shaun Chapas, the Bulldogs youngsters don’t think of themselves as young.
“I think as a player you never really think we’re a young team, we can’t do this,” he said. “You just work hard and try to do what you can.”