JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — You wouldn’t quite call Georgia’s opening Gator Bowl practice at Jacksonville University festive, but one of the beat reporters had a “Jingle Bell Rock” ring tone for his cell phone, and coaches and players seemed loose and lively.
Coach Mark Richt took pictures with several fans and hobnobbed with high school coaches. Players did pushups on a makeshift metal station just outside the practice field. Richt had a playful line for a local news cameraman who wore an Alabama Crimson Tide hat to practice.
“Glad you wore that Atlanta Falcon hat by the way,” he said.
Heck, even a yellow lab pup made an appearance (on a leash, of course).
Nebraska had slightly better practice facilities the previous two years in the Capital One Bowl. Georgia has a slightly better one here. It’s protected better from a chilly Atlantic Ocean wind, for one thing.
“We want to compete well and win the game,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That’s our No. 1 priority. I hope the guys have fun along the way, and I’m sure they will, but you’ve got to learn to focus on the job at hand amid the distractions.”
Richt doesn’t mind rematch
Richt had zero qualms about facing Nebraska for the second year in a row. For one thing, Georgia doesn’t have to completely guess as to what defenses NU will run against its offense. There’s a full game tape from the 2013 Capital One Bowl — a 45-31 Georgia win — to rely upon.
“That game film from last year is precious,” Richt said. “Now we’ve got some film of us vs. them and them vs. us. There’s some personnel changes, obviously, injuries, attrition … but it’s not that unusual to play the same team two years in a row.”
One personnel difference for Nebraska: defensive end Randy Gregory, who finished with 17 tackles for loss and 9 Ĺ sacks. The Bulldogs are very aware of No. 44 in NU’s defense.
“Young guy, tall, rangy, very athletic,” said Richt, who compared Gregory to Georgia’s Leonard Floyd. Floyd had 6 Ĺ sacks and 22 hurries as a true freshman this year. “A guy who looks like a very difficult guy to block. Of course, they take him and move him around in some of their third-and-long situations where they can get him some good matchups. Put him in some spots where he’s not predictable.”
Said sophomore right tackle John Theus, who will have to block Gregory at times: “He’s a quick guy. He has a good bull rush. He can do it all, really.”
Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason called Gregory a “threat.” Mason also had plenty of respect for NU’s secondary, which returns most of the corners from the 2013 Capital One Bowl bunch.
“Very talented secondary,” Mason said. “It’s going to be a challenge to throw the ball. They’re going to get up in your face and you’re going to have to beat them.”
Theus brothers eye home cooking
Two Bulldog brothers — third-year sophomore long snapper Nathan Theus and sophomore offensive tackle John Theus —- are coming home again. The two hail from Jacksonville, and even though Georgia returns annually to the city to play Florida, there isn’t much time for the brothers to enjoy being home. The Gator Bowl is different.
“They’ll be cooking a lot of food,” John Theus said of his parents. “I don’t know that we’ll be able to get 100 (players) in our house but we’re going to try to get as many as we can.”
The life of a freshman
Richt had a long, thoughtful quote about the travails of freshmen entering a program, specifically at Georgia: “Here’s what happens with freshmen: Most of the time, they’re working harder than they have ever worked in their life, but it’s still not quite to the standard that they have to be to be great. That’s the rub. They’re like, ‘Coach, I’m doing the best I’ve done.’ And in their mind and their heart they’re doing the best they’ve ever done. And it’s still not good enough. So until they learn to go at our tempo and do things the ‘The Georgia Way,’ as I like to call it, they’re just trying to figure out how life works.”
Star running back Todd Gurley initially evaded interviews until a Bulldog official went out to midfield and coaxed Gurley to share a few words. Gurley might have talked for a minute before returning to the practice field. The sophomore does more talking on the field, it would seem. ... Georgia practices prior to arriving in Jacksonville were “very good,” Richt said in terms of tempo and focus. “It looked like we were trying to win a ballgame,” Richt said. “Hopefully we’ll have that same type of focus here.” ... Richt said Georgia is considering a number of players to replace safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, who’s missing the game for a violation of team rules. He declined to say which rules Harvey-Clemons violated. Richt rattled off several players: Junior safety Corey Moore, freshman safety Trey Matthews, freshman safety Quincy Mauger, senior “putty man” Connor Norman, and junior nickel Damian Swann.