Georgia senior walk-on inside linebacker Jeremy Sulek was thrust into action last Saturday night against explosive Boise State because starter Alec Ogletree broke a bone in his foot.
That may have been the easy part.
Sulek could make his first career start this week when the Bulldogs host South Carolina and sophomore tailback Marcus Lattimore. In last year's matchup, when Akeem Dent and Christian Robinson were the starting inside linebackers, the Gamecocks punished the Bulldogs 17-6 behind Lattimore's 182 yards on 37 carries.
"They're definitely not going to feel sorry for us," Sulek said.
A 6-foot-1, 209-pounder from Dacula, Ga., Sulek got in six games last season and was occupying his customary spot on the sideline when Ogletree went down late in the first quarter Saturday. He came in and amassed seven tackles against the Broncos, who pulled away for a 35-21 win.
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said Sulek is competing with freshman Amarlo Herrera and junior Mike Gilliard for the opportunity to start alongside Robinson this week. He said Sulek has an advantage.
"He has the best understanding right now of what we're doing, and I think that helps him and kind of gives him a better chance of being in position to make plays," Richt said. "He's just got to do a better job of making the plays when he gets in position. As we all know, you can tackle a guy and he can get a couple of yards after the contact, or you can tackle a guy and stop him in his tracks.
"We need to get everybody involved to keep guys from getting yards after contact, and there is probably not a better back in the nation than Lattimore in doing that. That's going to be a tremendous challenge for us."
Sulek, who had four career tackles this time last week, exited spring practice third on the depth chart behind Ogletree and Richard Samuel. When Samuel was moved to tailback in July, it left Sulek an injury away.
So he wasn't nearly as surprised to get in Saturday as the many Bulldogs fans who scrambled for their programs to see who wore No. 38.
"I had a little bit of an idea," Sulek said. "In the weeks leading up to it, I had been practicing at both inside positions and just wanted to know as much stuff as I possibly could in case something did happen. I was definitely a little antsy and made my reads a little slower in the beginning, but I ended up calming down and tried to fit in and just be an asset for this defense."
Richt admits the loss of Ogletree, who will be out four to six weeks, is costly. He described the reserves as "good kids who are busting their tail" but said the dropoff is pretty steep.
Robinson said Sulek knows the defense as well as he does, but the obvious question this week is whether Sulek can help slow Lattimore.
"You've got to gang-tackle the guy, because not many guys can just one-on-one tackle him and set him down," Richt said. "He's just a tremendously strong kid. He can run through tackles and can finish forward for two or three yards after contact. Those 1- or 2-yard runs can become 4 or 5, and that's kind of what he did to us all last year."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.