For Rantavious Wooten, Georgia‚Äôs season opener for Buffalo was like a new beginning.
The fourth-year junior suffered a concussion in a car crash just three games into the 2011 season and decided to take a medical redshirt, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.
On Saturday, he made sure fans knew he was back and ready to play by catching two passes for 45 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
‚ÄúIt felt so good to out there,‚Äù said Wooten. ‚ÄúIt felt good playing against somebody else and getting after it. That‚Äôs been my drive this whole summer ‚Äî just get out there, stay healthy and make it to the first game.‚Äù
Georgia head coach Mark Richt said it was hard not to notice Wooten‚Äôs approach in the offseason.
‚Äú(Wooten) did great today,‚Äù said Richt. ‚ÄúHe had a great offseason and camp. Everyone bragged about what a great summer he had. It‚Äôs paying off for him. Guys made comments about the type of offseason he had.‚Äù
With Malcolm Mitchell‚Äôs move to the cornerback in the offseason, some wondered who would step up as a speedy deep threat. Quarterback Aaron Murray recently said that Wooten, along with Tavarres King, was growing into that role. After Saturday‚Äôs game, Murray stood by his comments.
‚ÄúWooten is a speedster,‚Äù said Murray. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs able to get on top of coverage. He‚Äôs really able to extend the field, and that‚Äôs great. I don‚Äôt know many guys that can cover him.
‚ÄúHe had the one touchdown, and I barely missed him on another one. He could‚Äôve had two today.‚Äù
Wooten also missed a chance for a passing touchdown. On a first down play from the Buffalo 39-yard line, Murray threw a lateral to Wooten who then tossed a deep pass to freshman Keith Marshall that was broken up inside the 10-yard line.
‚ÄúWe were running it in practice and I was throwing well,‚Äù said Wooten. ‚ÄúOne time they called it again, and I got so excited I dropped it. That haunted me until (Saturday). I went into the game thinking about that drop. When they called the play, I was like, ‚ÄòI‚Äôm not about to drop this.‚Äô‚Äù
Though Wooten didn‚Äôt drop the throw from Murray, he was disappointed in the results.
‚ÄúThe hardest part is catching it,‚Äù said Wooten, who played some quarterback at Glades Central High in Belle Glade, Fla. ‚ÄúIt felt like I was back in high school. I didn‚Äôt have any pressure, didn‚Äôt have to worry about anything. I didn‚Äôt even see the defensive back, honestly. It wasn‚Äôt until I threw it that I noticed he was there. I thought I had a touchdown.‚Äù
Wooten smiled when asked if he‚Äôd make that throw again. ‚ÄúI feel like I can make that throw,‚Äù said Wooten, who added that if Georgia ever needed him to play quarterback, ‚ÄúI‚Äôm the man.‚Äù
Richt plays record number of true freshmen in win
In addition to running back Todd Gurley, true freshmen were active all over the field for Georgia Saturday. In fact, 13 true freshmen saw playing time ‚Äî a record for a season opener in Mark Richt‚Äôs tenure.
‚ÄúA lot of guys played the special teams, kickers included,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúWe did have some freshmen taking some snaps ‚Ä¶ I really do like this freshman class. I‚Äôve been impressed with them athletically. They‚Äôre very coachable, teachable ‚Ä¶I think we did a good job recruiting that class.‚Äù
Three true freshmen ‚Äî kicker Marshall Morgan, right tackle John Theus and punter Collin Barber ‚Äî started the game for the Bulldogs. Tailback Marshall, another heralded recruit, finished the game with 10 carries for 51 yards.
‚ÄúWe had a great recruiting class,‚Äù Marshall said. ‚ÄúGuys came in and worked hard over the summer and earned some playing time.‚Äù
Fullback Quayvon Hicks, tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith and center Preston Mobley also saw playing time on offense Saturday.
On defense, cornerback Sheldon Dawson, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and outside linebackers James DeLoach and Josh Dawson saw action Saturday. Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins finished with two tackles in his first game as a Bulldog.
‚ÄúI feel like our class is something different,‚Äù Jenkins said. ‚ÄúWe all love to work hard. We want to prove something. We‚Äôre a unique class that no school has ever had, and we all want to work hard and win.‚Äù
Jenkins said he didn‚Äôt know what to expect heading into the opener, but his elder teammates have helped him and his fellow freshmen classmates prepare.
‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt expect to play this much and didn‚Äôt know how loud it was going to be, but I know what to expect now,‚Äù Jenkins said. ‚ÄúThe older guys haven‚Äôt cut us any slack. They treat us like juniors and seniors.‚Äù
Jenkins said one teammate stays on top of his progress more than others.
‚ÄúJarvis (Jones) doesn‚Äôt give me any slack at all,‚Äù Jenkins said. ‚ÄúI told Jarvis, ‚ÄòEverytime I mess up or do something wrong, I‚Äôll do up-downs.‚Äô‚Äù
When asked how many up-downs he‚Äôs had to do, Jenkins laughed and said, ‚ÄúI‚Äôve done about 10 or 20.‚Äù
Freshman running back Gurley went into the locker room following his 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown. He returned later in the first half ‚Ä¶ Offensive guard Chris Burnette was treated by Georgia‚Äôs medical staff early in the second half, but was also able to return ‚Ä¶ Starting tailback Ken Malcome suffered a hand injury in the third quarter and was unable to return ‚Ä¶ Freshman tackle Theus left the game in the second half with an ankle injury and did not return.
Georgia‚Äôs captain‚Äôs for Saturdays game were Murray, Shawn Williams, Ty Frix and Abry Jones ‚Ä¶ Connor Norman received the start at free safety in place of Bacarri Rambo. Christian Robinson started in the absence of Alec Ogletree, and Ramik Wilson got his first career start filling in for Chase Vasser. Devin Bowman played short corner, ‚Ä¶ Actor Samuel L. Jackson provided the voice-over for a pregame video montage shown on Sanford Stadium‚Äôs scoreboard. Jackson visited a Georgia practice last week.