Freshmen fabulous for Georgia Bulldogs

photo Tailback Sony Michel (1) and receiver Isaiah McKenzie (16) are Georgia freshmen who have been used in multiple ways so far this season.

ATHENS, Ga. -- As a freshman during his first August football camp at Georgia two years ago, tailback Todd Gurley had little to no idea of what to expect.

"I was just taking it day-by-day," Gurley recalled this week, "and I did not think I would have the kind of season that I did."

Gurley and fellow freshman Keith Marshall combined for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns on a Bulldogs team that won 12 games and nearly played for the national title. Yet their accomplishments are suddenly not so unique, as another freshman brigade is impacting Mark Richt's program.

In last Saturday's 66-0 dismantling of Troy, true freshmen accounted for 52 percent of Georgia's 547 total yards.

"I think you see it around the league and around the country," Richt said. "High-school players are more advanced than they used to be. I would say 90 percent of them are training all year round and that 90 percent of them are bigger, stronger, faster and even more skilled at some of the things that we're going to ask them to do. In the past, you might have to train a guy from scratch on certain things in the passing game, but a lot of these high-school teams are very outstanding passing teams with concepts and things that you used to have to teach from ground zero.

"So I'm not shocked that freshmen come in and are able to play, even some offensive linemen. It used to be that a lineman needed a couple years before you could get him ready physically to compete. Now some of them show up ready to go. It's amazing. I think athletes are different than they used to be even 10 years ago."

Georgia's thorough waxing of Troy -- the Bulldogs led 38-0 midway through the second quarter -- allowed plenty of opportunities for newcomers to play, but freshmen have accounted for 41 percent of the yardage through three games. Georgia's first two contests were against the ranked tandem of Clemson and South Carolina.

Nick Chubb wasted no time introducing himself to Bulldogs fans with a 47-yard touchdown run in the 45-21 opening defeat of Clemson. Chubb is averaging 9.5 yards per carry, which is slightly behind fellow freshman Sony Michel, who's at 10.3 yards per clip after shredding Troy for 155 yards and three touchdowns on 10 carries.

Not to be outdone, versatile newcomer Isaiah McKenzie has rushed four times for 71 yards, collected three catches for 47 yards and had a 52-yard punt return for a touchdown last week.

"They've done a great job, obviously," fifth-year senior Michael Bennett said. "I think 12 true freshmen have played, and that's incredible. I don't think we've had that kind of number since I've been here. It takes a lot of maturity from guys just coming out of high school, but they're learning fast, playing fast and doing a great job."

McKenzie started the past two games, but the only freshman to start all three is safety Dominick Sanders. The younger brother of Chris Sanders, a former 2011 "Dream Team" signee who was dismissed from the program in 2012, has collected six tackles and a tackle for loss.

Georgia first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt didn't hesitate starting freshman Dee Milliner during his first season as Alabama's secondary coach in 2010, nor did he hesitate starting freshman defensive backs Nate Andrews and Jalen Ramsey last season, when he was Florida State's defensive coordinator.

"Dominick has really good athletic ability," Pruitt said. "I think he picked off eight passes in the final eight games of his high-school career. He returned punts, so you knew he had really good ball skills. He also played some quarterback and running back, and he's a winner. He played on a really good high school football team."

The No. 12 Bulldogs on Saturday will host Tennessee, an East Division rival teeming with talented freshmen such as tailback Jalen Hurd, tight end Ethan Wolf, defensive end Derek Barnett and safety Todd Kelly Jr.

Several freshmen on both sidelines have benefited from a lack of depth at a particular position to gain earlier-than-expected playing time. In most of the cases, however, the newcomers will be on the field because they're productive.

"The coaches are going to play you if you have talent and you work hard, and all those guys deserve playing time," Gurley said. "Every time they've been on the field, they've taken advantage of it."

Odds and ends

Richt told reporters following Wednesday's two-hour practice that junior-college cornerback Shattle Fenteng likely will require shoulder surgery and is doubtful to play again this season. Fenteng suffered the injury in preseason camp and played sparingly against Clemson. ... Senior lineman Watts Dantzler of Dalton wore a noncontact jersey again, but Richt expects him to play Saturday. ... Mike Lutzenkirchen, the father of former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who died this summer in an accident in which alcohol was involved, talked to Georgia's players about making good decisions.

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.