Senior day no guarantee of departure for top-ranked Bulldogs

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia fifth-year senior guard Justin Shaffer planned to go through Senior Day festivities last year but eventually decided to return this season.

Leave it to this week's game against Charleston Southern to provide the biggest dilemma so far to Georgia's undefeated football season.

Well, technically it's the senior day festivities before the noon kickoff between the No. 1 Bulldogs and the Buccaneers of the Big South Conference that could lead to confusion. With the NCAA having allowed an extra year of eligibility for student-athletes due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, Georgia coach Kirby Smart knows that Saturday's late-morning ceremony doesn't have to serve as a final decision.

It was the same way a season ago until Georgia's home finale against Vanderbilt was canceled due to coronavirus-related issues among Commodores players.

"We basically said last year that if you're a fourth-year player or beyond, you had the opportunity to go through, but it doesn't mean that you've declared," Smart said Monday during a news conference. "They're not ready to declare what they're doing. Devonte (Wyatt) and Justin Shaffer and some other guys were going to walk in that game, but they decided to stay. We certainly don't want to force those guys to make a decision before they have to.

"We'll honor the guys who choose to walk even though a lot of them have an extra year of eligibility. We're just not crossing that bridge yet. If someone winds up walking twice then great, because they have a special opportunity. These are different times we're in these days, obviously."

Shaffer had played in 44 career games when last season ended with a 24-21 topping of Cincinnati in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. He started every game at guard a year ago as a senior and has done the same as a "super senior."

On Monday, the 6-foot-4, 330-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Ellenwood explained why he returned.

"I feel like I had more to prove," Shaffer said. "We had two losses last year that we shouldn't have had. We had to come back and finish the business that we didn't finish."

Smart used the word "resilient" when asked to describe this year's seniors, who have spearheaded the program's first undefeated run through Southeastern Conference play since 1982. There have been lows along the way, such as the lackluster loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl after the 2018 season and the stunning double-overtime setback to visiting South Carolina in 2019, but there have been significantly more highs.

The best could be yet to come, and then decisions will have to be made. Just not this Saturday.

"I would rather err on the side of 'All you guys go walk and then decide what you want to do' than not walk and possibly miss the opportunity," Smart said.

Anderson update

Senior outside linebacker Adam Anderson will not be a part of Saturday's fun due to last week's arrest on a rape charge. Anderson turned himself in and as of Monday was still incarcerated.

"I'm not allowed to talk much about it," Smart said. "I've spoken to Adam, but that's the extent of it, and that's really all I can talk about."

Games of value?

Charleston Southern will receive $500,000 for visiting Sanford Stadium this weekend as the lone FCS opponent on Georgia's schedule. Smart was asked Monday whether these games should continue being played.

"Do I believe these teams need these games to survive and to keep the sport of football alive?" Smart replied. "I do, because I think a lot of these programs struggle in talking with some of their athletic directors and coaches. It funds 45% or 50% of their budget sometimes to have one of these games. There is a group of young men who will come in here and get an experience they would never otherwise get, so from that perspective, I would love to be able to.

"It's going to become harder, though, because the league is going to expand again, and there are going to be more games that the fans want. The fans don't usually want these games, so it's a pulling of two separate ways. Personally, I'm all about promoting the game of football. Fewer kids are playing football because they've branched out to another sport, and I don't want to see opportunities at these universities taken away."

Dawg bites

Georgia's regular-season finale at Georgia Tech next week will have a noon kickoff on ABC. ... Smart estimated that seven or eight players would miss Monday's practice due to the flu. ... Nolan Smith suffered an elbow injury at Tennessee but should play Saturday. ... Redshirt sophomore receiver Dominick Blaylock could play this week for the first time since the 2019 SEC championship game. Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning is among the 58 nominees for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant.

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.