Bring on A.J.
Georgia football coaches, players and fans have some company in hoping junior receiver A.J. Green gets cleared by the NCAA to play Saturday at South Carolina. Gamecocks sophomore cornerback Stephon Gilmore wants Green to suit up as well.
"We're going into the game planning on him playing," Gilmore said. "I'm looking forward to going against him. He's a good football player, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he's got."
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said Tuesday that he would be highly disappointed if he didn't hear something this week on Green, who has been listed as "status to be determined" on this week's depth chart.
This time last week, Gilmore was prepping for 6-foot-6, 239-pound Southern Miss junior receiver DeAndre Brown, the most touted signee in Golden Eagles history. Brown didn't get his first catch against the Gamecocks until 9:48 remained in last Thursday's game and South Carolina in front 41-6.
"It was really fun," Gilmore said. "He's a good football player, and we watched a lot of film on him and came out and executed. In the second quarter, you could start to see him get kind of frustrated."
A 6-foot-1, 188-pounder from Rock Hill, Gilmore was a Parade All-American who enrolled in January 2009 and earned a starting spot three months later in spring practice. He started all 13 games as a freshman, compiling 56 tackles, six tackles for loss and an interception.
Gilmore averaged 10.1 yards on 15 punt returns and had a successful stint at quarterback in the Wildcat formation against Clemson, rushing five times for 20 yards and completing a 39-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery as the Gamecocks won 34-17. He had a 14-yard run from the Wildcat last Thursday.
"He is a guy who is very versatile," Richt said. "He's a tremendous cover guy, number one, and that's where we'll be most concerned about him. He can make plays offensively, too, and in special teams. He's very confident, and you can tell he's in great condition. He's a player."
Playing quarterback is not foreign to Gilmore, who rushed for 1,331 yards and 23 touchdowns and threw for 1,771 yards and 14 scores in leading South Pointe to the Class AAAA Division II title in 2008.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has joked about his defensive assistants cringing every time Gilmore shifts to the offense. The Gamecocks work on the Wildcat formation a little bit at the beginning of every practice.
"We want our opponent to have to spend about 15 minutes on that formation, so we'll give him one or two plays every game," Spurrier said.
The Bulldogs have a sophomore cornerback, Branden Smith, whom they aren't afraid to use on offense and special teams, either. Smith had a 17-yard run, a 3-yard reception and 51 yards on three punt returns during last Saturday's 55-7 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
Early in the second quarter of last year's Georgia-South Carolina game, Smith had a 61-yard touchdown run.
"Everybody is trying to find a way to get a little bit more firepower in their offense," Richt said, "and if there is a defensive kid that has that type of ability, like a Gilmore or Branden Smith, it's wise to get them in there. Branden has made a difference for us. That reverse he had in the South Carolina game a year ago - I don't know if we would have won that game without that play.
"It doesn't take much time to put in a couple of plays with these guys who don't have to do an awful lot of studying. You just put a little package in there for them on a weekly basis and you get the ball in their hands with a little bit of space. At least that's what you're hoping for. Let their abilities take over."
And as players such as Gilmore and Smith continue to prove, their abilities seem to know no limitations.
"I still like playing cornerback the most," Gilmore said. "I like lining up against a receiver, but I'll do whatever helps the team out. I just like playing football and trying to make plays."