ATHENS — Saturdays are supposed to be about wearing out opposing cornerbacks. Last week, however, A.J. Green spent game day wearing a path along the sideline, pacing back and forth, over and over, like a caged animal waiting to be released.
The injury sounded bad. A pulmonary contusion — more commonly known as a lung bruise — demanded caution on the part of Georgia’s coaches. An overmatched FCS opponent made the decision easy.
But make no mistake, waiting and watching was a nightmare for Georgia’s superstar receiver.
“It was pretty bad. It was my first game ever to sit out like that,” Green said. “I was just walking up and down the sidelines, watching the game.”
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It was the first time in two years the Bulldogs went into a game without Green, the SEC’s leading receiver. As strange a sight as that may have been for Georgia’s fans, it was completely foreign for Green. He had never missed a game in college, not one in high school, never even a day off in Pee-Wee football.
Green is a born competitor, and his place is on the field.
“He wants to get in and he wants to catch balls and score touchdowns,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “That’s just the type of player he is. So I think he was a little upset having to sit on the sideline and watch.”
The pacing is about as animated as Green gets, regardless of his frustrations. He’s a cool customer, and his emotions rarely bubble to the surface.
So for Green’s teammates in the offensive huddle, playing without the sophomore receiver for the first time all season wasn’t exactly earth shattering. With the Bulldogs staked to a 31-0 lead midway through the first half, no one was counting on Green to turn the momentum of the game with an acrobatic reception, and in the huddle, he’s rarely heard from anyway.
“He’s Mr. GQ Smooth,” tight end Aron White said. “He’s not going to get real excited ever. He doesn’t really say much. He laughs every now and then, but he’s the most even-keeled as far as his mood goes. I’ve never seen him get real excited, and I’ve never really seen him get down. I never saw much emotion out of him.”
In truth, Green missed the action, but he didn’t regret his weekend off.
Green entered the game with 732 yards receiving — 231 shy of his total a year earlier and 268 short of his preseason goal of 1,000. Last week’s opponent, Tennessee Tech was Georgia’s first foe to hail from a non-BCS conference, and for many players the game represented a chance to pad some stats.
But even that didn’t occur to Green. After all, Georgia only threw the ball 18 times in its 38-0 win, and after missing the game, Green is still just one yard behind Mississippi’s Shay Hodge for the conference lead in receiving yards.
“That 1,000 yards is going to come regardless, if I play well,” Green said. “I didn’t miss that much anyway.”
And in his place, a few of Georgia’s younger receivers got a chance to play a bigger role. Freshman Rantavious Wooten got the first start of his career at flanker, and Georgia’s tight ends caught seven passes, their highest total in four years. Green’s absence meant the Bulldogs could spread the wealth a bit.
This week, however, Green is healthy once more. The bruised lung felt fine after just a few days, he said, and Green has been practicing fully since Sunday. Not that he would have tolerated another week on the sideline anyway.
“Nobody’s going to keep that guy off the field,” White said. “He’s a great competitor, and he seems like he’s already back. I don’t think they could keep him off the field another week.”
That means a far different approach for Georgia’s offense this week against Alabama than it took against Tennessee Tech.
“He definitely makes a difference and as a play-caller you have to make sure you get the ball to him, knowing that on any play, even if it’s not a good play call, he gives you a chance to make a play,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
Auburn enters this week’s showdown against Georgia with the SEC’s ninth-ranked pass defense and a 5-foot-9 safety ready to contest the acrobatic Green for the occasional jump ball.
So the plan for Green’s return is simple: Bobo plans to feed him the ball, and Green is ready to make up for lost time.
“He had to roll with the punches when they told him he couldn’t play, but he’s ready for this week,” split end Michael Moore said. “He’s fired up, and he has looked good the past couple of days. He hasn’t missed a step.”
That well-worn stretch of sideline that Green traversed last week stands as a monument to his determination. He needs to be on the field as much as Georgia needs him out there.
A week off wasn’t something Green wanted, but in the end, it may prove to be a spark.
Pacing the sidelines only works off so much energy. The rest is set to explode on Auburn’s secondary when Green finally returns to action.
“I’m ready, man,” Green said. “I’m fresh, and I’m ready to go.”