Bowers-less Bulldogs still very impressive to Florida’s Napier

University of Georgia photo / Georgia sophomore tight end Oscar Delp, who has 13 catches this season for 160 yards and two touchdowns, is replacing All-American Brock Bowers in the starting lineup.
University of Georgia photo / Georgia sophomore tight end Oscar Delp, who has 13 catches this season for 160 yards and two touchdowns, is replacing All-American Brock Bowers in the starting lineup.

Georgia junior tight end Brock Bowers will miss Saturday afternoon's game against Florida due to an ankle injury, which is impacting this colorful rivalry held annually in Jacksonville.

From both vantage points.

"This is not only one of the best players in America this year and last year," Gators coach Billy Napier said Monday in his weekly news conference. "This is one of the best players of all time. The guy is a really, really unique matchup relative to his ability to run routes and get open and his ability to run after the catch. They're handing the guy sweeps, and he's a terrific blocker.

"The matchups just change, and we'll prepare for the personnel that we've been watching. What direction they go will be up to them, but probably having this past open date helps, and they're not lacking for skill players."

The No. 1 Bulldogs have achieved a 7-0 start that includes a 4-0 record in Southeastern Conference play with new starting quarterback Carson Beck, new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and amid a slew of injuries at running back, receiver and on the offensive front. Bowers has been the top constant, with the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder from Napa, California, having amassed 41 catches for 567 yards (13.8 yards a catch) and four touchdowns.

His performance in the 27-20 escape of Auburn last month will rank among the best in program history, as he compiled eight receptions for 157 yards, including the deciding 40-yard touchdown with 2:52 remaining. Bowers had 121 yards in the fourth quarter alone.

Replacing Bowers in the starting lineup will be sophomore Oscar Delp.

"Delp has been fine," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said Monday. "We are not asking Delp to do anything different than he's normally done."

A 6-5, 225-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Cumming, Delp was a top-100 national signee in the 2022 class and played in 13 of 15 games last season, when he backed up Bowers and the mammoth Darnell Washington. He has 13 catches for 160 yards this season, reaching the end zone in the UT Martin opener and in the 51-13 thrashing of Kentucky earlier this month.

"He got to see Darnell, and he got to see Brock do the things he's done," Smart said. "His growth has been good. I don't know that if he didn't have those two that he would be where he is, because those two demanded that he do things right in order to get on the field. He had to earn the right to play.

"He has earned that by how he's practiced and played."

Bowers underwent tightrope surgery last week after sustaining the injury during the 37-20 win at Vanderbilt on Oct. 14. Smart is not putting a timetable on his recovery and didn't elaborate on his status Monday.

"I'm not going to focus on that right now," he said. "I think that's all speculation. The most important thing is our guys and getting prepared for Florida."

The Bowers-less Bulldogs still have Beck, who has completed 173 of 235 attempts for 2,147 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. His 73.6% accuracy rate is on pace to break the school mark of 68.5% set last season by Stetson Bennett IV.

Georgia has won its first seven games by the average score of 40-14 and has averaged 509 yards per game while allowing 263. The Bulldogs have been incredibly impressive on third downs, making 57.1% of their conversions while allowing a stingy 23.6% clip.

"I've got a ton of respect for Georgia," Napier said. "It's going to require our best."

First-time woes

Georgia quarterbacks making their first start in this rivalry are just 1-9 since 2000, with only Jake Fromm being successful in his 2017 debut. Bennett went 2-1 as the starter against Florida but lost his first attempt in 2020, and now it is Beck's turn.

"I didn't know that stat," Smart said. "I think it's all about working and executing within your offense, which is what we'll ask Carson to do. He's a quarterback with a lot of experience under his belt, and I know he'll be excited to play in Jacksonville."

Losing in their inaugural opportunities against the Gators this century before Bennett were David Greene (2001), Joe Tereshinski (2005), Matthew Stafford (2006), Joe Cox (2009), Aaron Murray (2010), Hutson Mason (2014), Faton Bauta (2015) and Jacob Eason (2016). Tereshinski started for an injured D.J. Shockey in 2005, while Bauta's 2015 start was his only one with the Bulldogs.

And still waiting

Georgia and Washington are two of the nation's top-five teams, and they are two of the four Bowl Subdivision programs that still don't have a fumble recovery this season. Indiana and Iowa State remain without one as well among the 133 FBS teams.

Contact David Paschall at [email protected].

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