It was supposed to be a magical senior season for Jeff Owens, but his dream of leading Georgia's defense to a national title ended just a few snaps into his first game of the year.
Head coach Mark Richt confirmed Sunday that Owens would miss the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL early in the first quarter of the Bulldogs' win over Georgia Southern. Richt said surgery is scheduled for Sept. 9.
Although Owens will miss all of the 2008 season, Richt said he was certain the defensive tackle would accept a medical redshirt and return next year.
"I don't think there'd be any question about that," Richt said. "He knows it could be a blessing in the long run if he rehabs well and gets maybe in even better condition than he was this year, so he's looking at the bright side right now." Richt talked to Owens at halftime of Saturday's game and said the senior was in good spirits. Richt tried to boost Owens' morale by discussing the possibility of spending another season together in Athens.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Telegraph
"He smiled," Richt said. "He said, 'Things happen for a reason, and I haven't been through a lot of adversity in my life. This will test me and make me a better man.' "
Owens' absence breaks up an experienced pass-rush combination on the interior defensive line, but Richt said he expected senior Corvey Irvin to step in quickly to team with Geno Atkins at tackle.
Irvin led the Bulldogs in tackles Saturday with six, including a sack.
"I think that Corvey and Geno would be the top two guys right now," Richt said. "Corvey played an outstanding ballgame, played the most snaps and had the most production."
Beyond that, Richt said Georgia would use a rotation that included Brandon Wood, Ricardo Crawford, DeAngelo Tyson and Kade Weston, who is also battling an injury that will keep him out of this week's game against Central Michigan. Richt said Georgia was unlikely to use freshman A.J. Harmon, however, with Weston expected back in time forthe Sept. 13 game against South Carolina.
"Injuries are part of this game, we understand that," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "So we've just got to try to find a guy to replace him."
Still, the void Owens leaves off the field may be even bigger than his impact on the defensive line.
"Jeff was the leader of our defensive line, he was our anchor," Irvin said. "It was his senior season, and I hate that. I'm going to play my senior season for Jeff."
NEWS AND NOTES: Tight end Bruce Figgins was suspended for Saturday's game against Georgia Southern for what Richt called "in-house stuff."
Richt said Figgins is back in good standing with the team now… Sophomore offensive lineman Clint Boling will rejoin the Bulldogs this week after serving a one-game suspension as well. Richt said Boling will take over as the starting right tackle, moving Josh Davis back to the left side where he began camp. Although Davis is likely to back up Kiante Tripp at left tackle, Richt said the decision on who would start is "not etched in stone."… Wide receiver Kenneth Harris is questionable for this week's game with a sprained ankle, Richt said.
Defensive back Makiri Pugh and defensive end Neland Ball could return to action this week as well. Richt also said safety Quintin Banks (knee) and fullback Brannan Southerland (foot) were progressing well in their rehab, but said he doubted either would play before Georgia's Oct. 11 date with Tennessee.