Contributed photo by Paul Abell
ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia backup quarterback Joe Cox got in the Georgia Southern opener late in the first quarter and through the Bulldogs’ first two games this season he completed nine of 11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown.
Bulldogs coaches were hoping to mix him in occasionally for starter Matthew Stafford, but soon the games tightened and soon Cox disappeared. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound junior from Charlotte has played only once in Georgia’s last 10 games entering the Capital One Bowl against Michigan State.
“I wasn’t disappointed with the amount of playing time I got this year,” Cox said. “There were certain points of the game you could tell Matthew needed to be in because we weren’t jelling very well, so it didn’t make sense just to give me a certain amount of reps during a certain point of the game just to please me. That wasn’t what it was about, and I wasn’t expecting anything like that.”
Cox’s only appearance after the first two games came in the fourth quarter against Florida with the Bulldogs trailing 49-3. He led Georgia to its only touchdown drive in the 49-10 debacle but may have to go from start to finish against the Gators next season.
Should Stafford elect to skip his senior season and make himself eligible for the NFL draft — a scenario pro scouts believe is likely — Cox would assume the top spot in spring practice. D.J. Shockley did the same thing in 2005 after coming off the bench for David Greene for three seasons.
“He’s got some similarities to Shockley in that he’s got the ability to become a leader without being a starter, and that’s hard to do,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Shockley was able to do that, and Joe has been able to do that. Guys know him and respect him and have seen him practice and play, and they believe in Joe.
“We didn’t get him in as much as we would like, but he’s been great.”
Challenging Cox next season should Stafford depart would be current redshirt freshman Logan Gray and prep standouts Aaron Murray and Zack Mettenberger, both of whom will enroll next month. The 6-2, 180-pound Gray had two carries for 21 yards against Georgia Southern but has been noticed more this season for his six punt returns for 72 yards.
Murray (6-0, 198) is the nation’s No. 3 pro-style quarterback among this year’s high school seniors, according to Rivals.com. He missed most of this season with a broken ankle but returned in time to throw for 344 yards in leading Tampa’s Plant High School to Florida’s 4A state title.
Mettenberger (6-4, 229) is Rivals.com’s No. 9 pro-style quarterback and hails from nearby Watkinsville.
“You’re going to have to adjust no matter what happens,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who also may lose sophomore tailback Knowshon Moreno to the NFL. “This year we had to adjust because of injuries. We had them, but we had to go on. If we lose a couple of guys and they decide to go, we’re not going to expect anything less from the guys stepping in.
“We’re going to expect to win every football game, and that’s how we’re going to coach them.”
Though he appeared in more games as a redshirt freshman (four) and a sophomore (six), Cox has the respect of his teammates. Some of that was earned two years ago, when he rallied the Bulldogs to a 14-13 win over Colorado by replacing Stafford and completing 10 of 13 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
That performance earned him his only career start the next week at Ole Miss, a game in which he struggled.
“If I would have gone down with an injury this year, he could have stepped in and done an outstanding job,” Stafford said. “He came in some games early in the year and came in the Florida game and proved he can make plays at this level. We see it every day in practice. He’s a very accurate passer, and I think he can run this offense just fine.”
Stafford said he hasn’t discussed his future with Cox, who hasn’t asked him about it. It’s an impending decision that will have an impact on both.
“Obviously Joe wants to play, and every day he steps on that field, he tries to be better than Matthew Stafford,” Bobo said. “That not only makes him better and better prepared for when he does step into a game, but it makes the other guys around him better.
“He was only here one year with Shockley, but he reminds me a lot of him. It’s not about Joe. It’s about Georgia. He loves this football team, and that’s contagious. Whenever he steps out on the field, I have no worries at all. I have the utmost confidence in him.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...