ATHENS — One of the offseason’s most controversial topics for debate took another step toward being settled Wednesday when Georgia’s athletics association board of directors approved a recommendation by athletics director Damon Evans to continue negotiations to keep the annual football game between the Bulldogs and Florida Gators in Jacksonville, Fla.
The current contract for the game runs through next season, sparking debate that the venue could be changed — either moving it to Atlanta on a permanent basis or alternating between the two cities.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt said during the offseason that he felt Florida had a distinct advantage by playing closer to its campus, but after the board’s decision Wednesday, he was taking a more political stance.
“My only focus on that game or any game is just trying to win it and not really being too concerned about where it’s being played,” Richt said. “So any question that you ask me about the game, that will be my answer. Refer to answer No. 1.”
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While negotiations with Jacksonville remain ongoing, Evans endorsed the status quo during a quarterly meeting with the athletics association’s board of directors Wednesday, saying that the current venue offers significant benefits for both the school and the fan base.
“An extraordinary amount of study has been done on the various options available and a great deal of input has been gathered,” Evans said. “After all the fact-gathering and evaluation of those factors, I’m convinced that moving forward with discussions on extending the contract in Jacksonville is the appropriate way to go.”
In May, Richt told fans at a Bulldog Club meeting that he thought the current setup was inequitable for Georgia, which has lost 15 of the past 18 matchups with Florida, 16 of which occurred in Jacksonville.
“When people ask me the question, ‘Do you really think (Jacksonville) is a neutral site?’, I say, ‘No, it’s not neutral,’ ” Richt said at the meeting, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “When you play in the state of Florida every year — we fly, they drive; it’s hotter for us; it’s cooler for them. It’s played in a stadium that (used to be called) the Gator Bowl. But what the heck? If nothing else, we’ll make Jacksonville pay more to keep it there. ... I wouldn’t feel bad having a ‘neutral site’ game in Georgia – in the Georgia Dome.”
Richt has since backed off those statements and refused to comment further about the issue.
Meanwhile, Evans said he thought continuing to play the game in Jacksonville would provide significant recognition for Georgia, assist in recruiting and provide a boost to the economy in the southern part of the state.
Richt said he has not had recent conversations with Evans about the issue.
“Not any time in recent times,” Richt said. “There’s been discussions over the years but I’m really more concerned about trying to win the game than where it’s being played.”
After Caleb King made a successful return to the playing field following a six-week absence with a hamstring injury and incumbent Richard Samuel fumbled twice in Georgia’s win over Arkansas last week, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said the decision on who would start at tailback was “still yet to be determined.”
Samuel ran for an 80-yard touchdown in the game but had just 24 yards on his 15 other carries, two of which ended with fumbles. King picked up 59 yards on 11 carries in the game and earned praise for his improved pass blocking.
Bobo said the likely scenario will be that both players will see action early.
“I think it a lot depends on how they’re running the football,” Bobo said. “I think both guys will get equal amount early on and if we feel one guy is hotter than the other, I think we’ll stick with him.”
MURRAY TO REDSHIRT?
Freshman quarterback Aaron Murray is sitting out of practice for the second straight week with triceps tendonitis, and Bobo said that doesn’t bode well for his chances at avoiding a redshirt.
“He’s still not practicing,” Bobo said when asked if Murray would earn a redshirt. “Yeah, I would say so. He hasn’t practice in over two weeks. Right now, he’s not playing.”
Richt was more cautious in his approach, saying that there was still a chance Murray could play this season.
The same is true of several of Georgia’s other freshman who have yet to see playing time, including tailback Washaun Ealey and linebacker Chase Vasser.
“I’m pushing that decision closer to Week 6,” Richt said. “If you had some injury situations or promoted a guy to first or second team and you know he’s going to get considerable reps every game, I think getting him in the last six games is worth it. It might be worth it with just four to go, especially if you’re in contention for an SEC title.”
GETTING SOME REST
Left tackle Vince Vance sat out of Tuesday’s practice with some soreness in his left knee. Vance missed the latter half of last season following ACL surgery on the knee, but Bobo said the recent soreness was nothing to be concerned about.
“It’s just natural for any guy coming off an knee injury to have some soreness, and you’ve got to work through that,” Bobo said. “He practiced (Wednesday) and looked fine.”
Cordy Glenn worked at left tackle during Tuesday’s practice, and Bobo said Glenn worked there for significant snaps during Georgia’s game against Arkansas last week, with Chris Davis subbing in for Glenn at left guard. Bobo said Vance will start this week’s game, however, with Glenn at guard and Davis coming off the bench.
HE’S NO SLOUCH
Like every Wednesday, quarterback Joe Cox didn’t throw a pass during practice. A nerve problem in his throwing shoulder causes pain during many every-day activities, and coaches have decided an extra day of rest could mean a stronger arm on game day.
But despite the reduced role during practice, Cox said he’s hardly taking the day off. While he may not be throwing passes, he said he’s staying involved in everything else that’s happening on the practice field.
“It’s not like I come out there in my street clothes and just watch,” Cox said. “I practice. There are some periods where I’ll still do the pass plays, I just won’t throw. I’ll take my drop and act like I’m going to throw, just won’t throw it. It’s not a day off of practice. It’s just a day off from throwing.”
Richt said linebacker Darius Dewberry would likely return to action this week after missing the past two games. Akeem Dent, who missed action during the preseason with a sore hamstring and sat out last week’s win over Arkansas, is unlikely to play this week, Richt said.