ATHENS, Ga. — From five-star prospect to five exposed gaffes.
Touted Georgia freshman right tackle John Theus had a Southeastern Conference debut to remember, and one to learn from as well. The 6-foot-6, 309-pounder from Jacksonville committed three false-start penalties and was beaten on two sacks during last Saturday night's 41-20 win at Missouri.
"Obviously I had some stuff that I messed up on," Theus said. "I gave it all I had. That's all I can ask for, and as for the mistakes I made, I'm going to go back and fix them."
Theus was a top-five national tackle prospect according to ESPN, Rivals.com and Scout.com, and he had the luxury of easing into college football against the Buffalo Bulls. His second test was very different, as the Bulldogs traveled to face an SEC newcomer at night in its 71,004-seat venue.
Making matters even more challenging was matching up against Missouri defensive end Brad Madison, a returning starter and a fifth-year senior.
"That was his first experience in that kind of crowd noise, and obviously it got to him some," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "They also were stemming late and moving late. He jumped quite a few times along with our freshman backs, so he has to get used to that kind of thing. Sometimes when it's loud and you don't have the verbal cadence of the quarterback that you can hear, you don't get off the snap as fast.
"If you are late off the ball, you are going to get beat, and that's what was happening to him. A veteran was working on a rookie, and he learned a lot."
Madison blew past Theus to sack Aaron Murray and halt Georgia's opening possession of the game, and Theus had a false start on the second drive to turn a third-and-7 into a third-and-12 the Bulldogs could not convert. On Georgia's first play of the second quarter, Murray was intercepted after being pressured by Madison.
"Throughout the whole game we were just telling him to keep his head up and that everybody makes mistakes," left tackle Kenarious Gates said. "When you make mistakes you've got to move on, and he's done pretty good. He knows we've got his back and that we've got to work together."
The second half didn't start much better for Theus, who committed two false starts and yielded another sack in Georgia's first two possessions, but the Bulldogs then went on a 32-3 run to close the game.
"Obviously everyone wants to look at the false starts and things like that, but I think he grew a lot this last game," Murray said. "I told him after the game that I was proud of him and that he fought through a lot in that first half. It's nerve-racking for anyone to go into an away stadium, much less a true freshman.
"A couple of times he seemed frustrated, but I walked up to him and told him to relax and just play ball. I had confidence in him and knew he was going to do his job, and he went out there and did it."
Theus continues to receive treatment on his left ankle, which he sprained against Buffalo, and is back at home this week when the No. 7 Bulldogs host Florida Atlantic. He believes last week was a good learning opportunity and that he's a long way from being a good player, but the Bulldogs aren't alone in being impressed by what he has done in two games.
"I can feel for him, because at the end of that game we had two redshirt freshmen and a true freshman starting for us," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "When you put young players in that environment it can really be hard, but I think he's a good, young player. Overall he did a good job, and he'll get better and better.
"If you're positive with young players and they have a good attitude, they will get a lot better, and I think he has a great future."
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 ...