While Saturday’s game against Kentucky was a costly win in terms of on-field injuries, Georgia suffered a more worrying injury Saturday night. Back in Athens, senior defensive back Richard LeCounte was involved in a dirt-bike accident that put him in the hospital with a shoulder injury and cuts and bruises.
Smart said LeCounte has since been moved out of the hospital’s intensive care unit and that his teammates sent him video messages of support yesterday. Regardless of LeCounte’s importance to Georgia’s defense, Smart said any kind of serious incident involving a player is “crushing” news.
“(It was) certainly scary for our team, for everybody in our family, everybody in the organization,” Smart said. “And it was really scary for him and his family. So, it makes you hug your kids a little more at night for sure.”
LeCounte has accumulated three interceptions, four pass deflections, a forced fumble and the team’s third-most tackles this season. Given his production and veteran leadership, LeCounte’s absence leaves a major hole in Georgia’s secondary, the position group arguably making the most mistakes on defense game to game. That’s a concern ahead of the Florida matchup on Nov. 7 considering the Gators’ SEC second-best passing offense.
Smart said success this weekend will come down to new guys stepping up and seasoned starters shouldering a heavier load. One substitute is junior defensive back Christopher Smith, who made his fourth appearance of 2020 in relief against Kentucky, securing four tackles.
Other candidates to fill in at safety are sophomore Tyrique Stevenson, junior Latavious Brini and freshman Major Burns.
“These guys are competitors, and I don’t know how (injuries) are going to affect things because a lot of it depends on what we’re going to have to defend,” Smart said. “With Florida, they’ve got a very versatile attack.”
Several other defenders went down against Kentucky as well. Defensive linemen Jordan Davis and Julian Rochester, defensive backs Lewis Cine and Stevenson and linebacker Quay Walker all had to leave the game. They add to an injured list that also includes receivers George Pickens and Matt Landers, running back Kenny McIntosh and offensive lineman Ben Cleveland.
Smart said he won’t know the full extent of the team’s losses until they get back to practice. He said Davis will be day-to-day with an elbow injury, Rochester will be unavailable against Florida due to his knee, Cine is nursing an ankle sprain and Walker and Stevenson should be back on the field this weekend. Although he said Cleveland is fine, Smart doesn’t know yet if Pickens and McIntosh will be fully recovered for the Gators.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of guys who practice who don’t get to play who will get opportunities,” Smart said. “When you play this kind of schedule, you’re going to have injuries.”
Banking on Bennett
Starting quarterback Stetson Bennett followed up his rough performance against Alabama on Oct. 17 with another lackluster outing Saturday. He’s now thrown five interceptions to just two touchdowns over the past two games, a major step backward from the five touchdowns and zero interceptions he recorded over Weeks 1 to 3.
Although redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis has continued to take solid reps at practice and redshirt sophomore transfer JT Daniels has fully recovered from an ACL injury more than a year ago, Smart said it’s not time for a next man up mentality.
“We feel like Stetson gives us the best chance to win right now,” Smart said. “We (determine) that based on the total body of work.”
Bennett is still the guy going forward, but Smart noted protecting the ball — two quarterback fumbles ended up back in the Bulldogs’ hands against Alabama and Kentucky — and better perimeter blocking could lead to improvement.
Smart said first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken has complete control over choosing a starter and crafting offensive strategy. Yet it’s a collaborative effort between Monken, position coaches and Smart, whom the head coach said are “aligned perfectly” in terms of offensive decisions.
But continuing the refrain he’s repeated since the summer, Smart said no quarterback is out of the conversation for starter.
“If (Mathis) continues to improve and shows us he’s the better guy, then he would be the guy up,” Smart said. “Same with JT.”