Georgia had all kinds of trouble trying to stop South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore with all hands on deck last season.
The task on Saturday in Athens of containing the No. 12 Gamecocks’ sophomore running back becomes more difficult now that starting inside linebacker Alec Ogletree is out four to six weeks with a broken bone in his right foot.
Georgia turned to Jeremy Sulek, a senior walk-on who had four career tackles before this season, and Amarlo Herrera, a freshman, in their 35-21 loss to No. 5 Boise State Saturday after Ogletree’s first quarter injury.
Georgia coch Mark Richt said after the game that Georgia couldn’t afford to lose either Ogletree or inside linebacker Christian Robinson.
“The drop-off was going to be pretty steep with a true freshman or a walk-in in there,” Richt said. “These are good kids. They’re busting their tail, but it was just a position where we didn’t feel like we could afford that type of injury.”
Another inside linebacker Mike Gilliard, who has 16 career tackles, could end up starting with Robinson Saturday against No. 12 South Carolina.
The junior said he took first-team reps in practice Monday along with Herrera at Ogletree’s “Mo” position, with Sulek also getting work at the position.
“We’re just competing right now to see who’s going to get the most time there,” Herrera said.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said after Saturday’s game that Gilliard didn’t come in for Ogletree on Saturday because he had worked in practice at Robinson’s “Mike” position, but Richt said he would compete there this week.
How did Georgia get so thin at inside linebacker?
Well, Marcus Dowtin, fourth on the team in tackles last season, left the program in January after not playing in the Liberty Bowl due to a coach’s decision.
He transferred to North Alabama and had a team-high nine tackles and an interception in a win over Central Oklahoma Thursday.
Richard Samuel, who backed up Ogletree this spring, moved to tailback after Georgia lost Washaun Ealey and Caleb King in the months after spring practice ended.
Another inside linebacker, Brandon Burrows is out for the season after shoulder surgery. Inside linebacker signee, Kent Turene did not get certified by the NCAA Clearinghouse and is at prep school.
The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Sulek had seven tackles–including five solo stops. He said he had “butterflies” when he got the head nod to go in the game.
He tried to calm down and focus on his keys.
“I had a blast, honestly,” Sulek said.. “It was just like what I could have dreamed about. I was very fortunate to be able to be put in this situation. I love this game so I was very glad to get the opportunity.”
Sulek did not have a single football scholarship offer out of Dacula High School.
He came to Georgia on the Hope Scholarship without planning to play, but missed the game. He was urged to walk-on by Robinson.
“I was actually cut my first year trying to walk-on,” Sulek said of word that came prior to the Oklahoma State opener in 2009 because of too many players on the team. “That hurt a little bit, but I decided I’d give it one more go-round.”
He rejoined the team in January, 2010.
“He did a pretty good job, really,” Richt said after watching the film. “He has the best understanding right now of what we’re doing. It helps him. It gives him a better chance to be in position to make plays and then he’s just got to do a better job of making the plays when he gets in position.”
Herrera, a signee this year, recorded two tackles in his first college game.
“I’m trying to do what `Tree did,” Herrera said, “and just approaching it seriously and trying to get my mind right for South Carolina and for the rest of the time that Tree’s out.”
As a freshman last season, Lattimore gashed Georgia for 182 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries in a 17-6 Gamecocks’ win in Columbia.
That’s with Akeem Dent, a third-round pick now on the Atlanta Falcons, starting at inside linebacker for Georgia.
“We need to get everybody involved to keep guys from getting yards after contact and there’s probably not a better back in the nation than Lattimore in doing that,” Richt said. “That’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us this ballgame.”
Said Sulek: “We’ve got South Carolina, and they’re definitely not going to feel sorry for us.”