After a grueling month of hitting each other during practice, exchanging pleasantries with the opposition before Saturday's game isn't exactly the ideal way to kick off the season, several Georgia players said, but they're willing to do it if Oklahoma State is.
The American Football Coaches Association requested that all teams shake hands before their first game in order to promote sportsmanship, but Cowboys' head coach Mike Gundy expressed some concerns about potential fights between the teams. That's a sentiment Georgia quarterback Joe Cox can understand.
"I think it could definitely happen, especially between teams that have bad blood," Cox said. "If you have that many guys going to midfield to shake hands, somebody's going to say something they shouldn't say probably. I think it could get out of hand and the whole team is on the field."
That was Gundy's worry when he told reporters he was unsure whether he supported the plan. Georgia head coach Mark Richt said he would have his players participate if Gundy agreed – it's up to the head coach of the home team to decide, Richt said – but he would also remind his players what is at stake should a problem escalate.
"I'd like to have all of our guys who traveled be able to participate in the game, and if you get in a fight, you're out, you're done," Richt said. "That in itself, I would think, would keep things cool."
Keeping things cool is part of the problem, Cox said.
While Cox said he's not against the idea, he would prefer his players be as focused and intense as possible before kickoff. The handshakes only distract from that.
"If I was a coach and I was trying to get my team really focused on physically beating somebody in a physically demanding game, I wouldn't want to go do a full-team handshake before the game," he said.
While Richt said the gesture is fine for the opening game, he wouldn't be in favor of continuing the tradition throughout the season as more rivalry games are played.
Oklahoma State and Georgia certainly aren't traditional rivals – as will be the case with many of the opening-week games – but the two teams did play just two years ago, and Cox said he has no doubt there are still some bitter feelings about the outcome in the Cowboys' locker room.
"Everybody knows how they were talking after the game, saying they didn't come ready to play and thought they were outplayed and outcoached, and nobody wants to play again and have the same feeling after the game," Cox said. "So they're going to be focused and fired up and I'm sure the last thing on their mind is meeting at midfield and shaking hands before the game."
KING STAYING HOME
As reported by the Telegraph earlier this week, sophomore tailback Caleb King will not make the trip to Stillwater for Georgia's opener against Oklahoma State.
A hamstring injury has sidelined King since Aug. 12, and while coaches remained hopeful last week that he might return in time to make the trip, the injury has been slow to heal.
Richt said he watched King jogging at practice Wednesday and thought he looked better, which gave him some hope that the tailback would at least be able to return in time for the South Carolina game.
"He was running at least three-quarters speed," Richt said. "I would think he'll be ready for that game."
King's absence leaves just two scholarship tailbacks likely to see significant action against the Cowboys – sophomore Richard Samuel and redshirt freshman Carlton Thomas.
It's a far cry from how the preseason began, with five players fighting for carries. Both Dontavius Jackson and freshman Washaun Ealey will make the trip to Stillwater, Richt said, but neither is expected to see much action. Walk-on Kalvin Daniels will be Georgia's No. 3 tailback for the game, and fullback Fred Munzenmaier is also available for duty should he be needed.
"That's pretty surprising," Cox said of the shallow roster of running backs, "but I think they tried to find the guys that were the most consistent, and I think we have two good ones that know what's going on and are going to do fine with our plan."
NO TRIP FOR TRIPP
Junior defensive end Kiante Tripp is another veteran who will miss the Oklahoma State game due to injury.
Tripp suffered what Richt described as a "stinger" that has been slow to heal, costing the converted offensive lineman a shot at his first action of his career on the defensive side of the football.
We don't think it's anything real serious, but sometimes it's like a hamstring – it just lasts longer," Richt said. "It's one of those things."
The loss is particularly problematic at a position in which Georgia lacks experienced depth. Demarcus Dobbs and Rod Battle will start Saturday, but with sophomore Justin Houston suspended for the first two games, the Bulldogs do not have another defensive end on the roster with playing experience at the position.
Senior Marcus Washington, who moved from linebacker last month, and redshirt freshman Cornelius Washington will be the top two players off the bench, Richt said, and freshman Montez Robinson will be ready to go if called upon.
"I think we're well prepared," Marcus Washington said of the group. "It's been a long grind ever since camp started. Guys are learning, pushing, fighting trying to get right. We're all fighting hard trying to make sure we get it done."
FRESHMEN MAKE THE CUT
A majority of Georgia's freshmen will make the trip to Oklahoma State, Richt said, and most of those will play.
Quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger will be on the plane, as will receivers Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten. Ealey and tight ends Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch are all part of the offensive travel squad, while Robinson, Abry Jones, Mike Gilliard, and Branden Smith will be a part of the defensive unit.
One player not making the trip is freshman cornerback Jordan Love, who continues to battle a toe injury. Richt said that isn't a sign of things to come for Love, however.
"He would have made the trip," Richt said, "but he's not able."
Richt said a total of 72 players will make the trip to Oklahoma State.TIGHT QUARTERS
Mark Richt was on a recruiting trip to meet current St. Louis Cardinals slugger Matt Holiday the first and only time he has been in Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater. He said he doesn't remember much of what he saw, and he doubts it looks the same after a huge renovation project, but he's heard the horror stories about the cramped sidelines the opposing teams must endure.
"You'd rather have a little more breathing room, but you've just got to deal with it." Richt said. "That's part of being in a hostile environment. It adds to it."
While it won't be the most comfortable of working environments, Richt said there may be a small advantage for the Bulldogs.
During last week's practice game, Richt complained about problems many of the younger players had making substitutions. The cramped quarters, however, might help keep the players' heads in the game.
"In some ways it may help you because the kids will be closer to coaches, and I doubt they'll want to be turning around," Richt said. "I'm sure they'll be focused on what's ahead, so it may help us."
CHANGE OF PACE
Richt announced a new twist to Georgia's regular practice schedule today.
Beginning this weekend, the Bulldogs will begin practicing on Sundays and take Mondays off completely.
It was a move Richt said he had considered several times, but in the end, he decided there was an advantage in terms of preparation by working out the kinks from the previous game the day after playing, then moving on to preparation for the next game after a day's rest.
The final push may have actually come from Richt's brother-in-law, Brad Johnson, who said the NFL works from a similar schedule.
"I've considered it a lot of times, and we're going to give it a try, and I think the players will like it," Richt said. "A lot of teams do it, and it's actually based on the NFL model."
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Georgia practiced in shorts for the first time in weeks Wednesday, a nice change of pace for the players. The response, however, wasn't exactly what Richt was hoping for.
"We had one of two dress rehearsals today," Richt said. "It was not super sharp. It wasn't horrible, but I'm thankful we have another day of what should be a review."
Georgia holds its final walk-through in shorts tomorrow before leaving Friday for Oklahoma.
A few more quotes on Mike Gundy's "handshake" comments...
From Makiri Pugh: “Sportsmanship is important, and that’s why you shake up after the game. As jacked up as we’ll be, I wouldn’t mind shaking a guy’s hand because it is a contest. I don’t think it’s a personal grudge outside of playing football. But of course, our two schools have met before, so there’s some blood between us, but sportsmanship is important, too.”
From Marcus Washington: “That’s his right if he feels that way. If he’s not inclined to shake our hand, he doesn’t have to. It’s all good.”
From Michael Moore: “We’ll have to talk about that after the game. We recognize what happened, and we’ll try to settle that on the field.”