5 things to know about No. 1 Georgia’s season opener

ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs will kick off their 132nd season of football Saturday when they play host to Tennessee-Martin at 6 p.m. at Sanford Stadium (SEC Network+).
The Skyhawks are an FCS team that competes in the Ohio Valley Conference and has claimed at least a share of that league’s past two championships. They went 7-4 last season, which included a 65-24 loss on the road against then-No. 3 Tennessee.
“Obviously, when you turn the tape on you see the amount of talent Georgia has and the high level of schemes and how their kids are coached and effort and physicality,” said Jason Simpson, who is entering his 18th season as Tennessee-Martin’s coach. “I see it and I’m sure everybody in the country does. They’re tremendous and that’s a credit to Kirby Smart and that program.”
Georgia will enter the season seeking to become the first team since 1936 to win three national championships in a row.
Following are five other things to know about Saturday’s game:
The Carson Beck era
The Bulldogs will usher in the Carson Beck Era in Saturday’s opener. Beck is the latest in a line of quarterbacks who have had to bide their time and wait their turn to finally earn the distinction of “QB1″ at Georgia.
A 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior from Jacksonville, Florida, Beck has played in 12 games for the Bulldogs but never started until now. He spent the last three seasons as the primary backup for Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels.
“I think the biggest thing for him was the confidence that he developed in fall camp,” junior tight end Brock Bowers said of Georgia’s new quarterback. “I feel like he just got faster and faster at making his reads and stuff like that. … He’s just playing the game at a faster pace and that’s what he needs to be doing.”
Many Georgia quarterbacks have had to wait a while to get their chance to lead the team. D.J. Shockley (2005), Joe Cox (2009), Hutson Mason (2014) and Bennett (2020) all had to wait until at least their fourth season to be handed the reins of the offense.
About those backs
Georgia’s running back tradition is one of the greats in college football. Dating to the 1940s with the late Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi and continuing through Herschel Walker, Garrison Hearst, Knowshon Moreno, Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb and others, Georgia has become known as RBU as it has produced some of the best backs ever to play the game. For the moment, at least, that legacy is threatened.
Thanks to myriad preseason injuries, which running back – if any – might end up emerging as a star for the Bulldogs is uncertain. Seniors Daijun Edwards (knee) and Kendall Milton (hamstring) are the heirs apparent to Kenny McIntosh, last season’s star, but they were injured for much of camp. Sophomore Branson Robinson, who emerged as a rising star last season, was lost for a year because of a ruptured patellar two weeks ago. That leaves redshirt freshman Andrew Paul, who is coming off an ACL reconstruction, and freshman Roderick Robinson, as the only healthy scholarship backs on the roster. Walk-on Cash Jones, a sophomore from Brock, Texas, might have had the best camp of all and likely will play a role all season.
Smart seemed relatively unconcerned this week.
“We have I feel like a good run plan,” he said. “We have willing blockers at tight end and receiver and the backs when they don’t have the ball, and we’ve got a quarterback that understands the running game. But we haven’t executed it against anybody yet, so I’m excited to see them go play.”
Boom!
Boom will be a little over a year old when he dons the famous Georgia “G” jersey and spiked collar and officially takes over as Uga XI on Saturday. Boom succeeds “Que,” who retired just shy of his 10th birthday at the end of last season. Though his age prevented him from making the long trip to Los Angeles for January’s College Football Playoff Championship game, Que was credited with overseeing two national championships and, with a 91-18 record, left as the Georgia mascot with the most wins all time.
There will be no “collaring ceremony” before Saturday’s game, as the Bulldogs did that on Dooley Field before the G-Day spring game April 15 at Sanford Stadium. Just a 10-month-old puppy at the time, Boom’s youth was apparent as he rambunctiously pulled and chewed the lead held by his owner Charles Seiler.
While Boom is the 11th in the line of the Uga mascots bred by the Savannah-based Seiler family, he is Georgia’s 17th official mascot overall. Those began with an unnamed goat that wore a black coat emblazoned with red U.G. letters in 1892. Trilby, a solid white bull terrier, took over in 1894. Mr. Angel, Butch and Mike were all brindled English bulldogs who reigned as official mascots from 1944-55.
“Hood’s Ole Dan” became the first in the Uga line. He was a wedding gift to Cecelia Seiler from UGA law student Frank W. “Sonny” Seiler in 1956. So handsome was the all-white English bulldog that coach Wally Butts asked Sonny, who volunteered in the athletic department, to bring him to the sideline for that season’s football games. Thus, the Uga mascot tradition was born.
In loving memory
Seiler died Monday after a short illness. He was 90. His contributions to the University of Georgia, which included a lifetime of service on the boards of the athletic association, the UGA Alumni Association and the UGA Foundation, will be recognized before Saturday’s game.
The Bulldogs also plan to memorialize the late Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy. Willock, a junior guard on the 2022 team, died in the Jan. 15 car crash that also took the life of LeCroy, the driver. Georgia’s offensive linemen are planning to recognize their fallen comrade in some way Saturday. Whether they don’t know or are just trying to keep it a secret is unclear.
“We’re still trying to figure out what we want to do, but we definitely want to do something throughout the season,” sophomore Tate Ratledge said Wednesday. “He’s a big part of our offensive line’s ‘why’ and why we play the way we play.”
It’ll be hard to top what the Bulldogs did at the G-Day game in April. On the opening series, the No. 1 offense lined up without a player at left guard, where Willock played, and then took a timeout. The linemen also pay homage to Willock on the field daily by pointing to the ground with their index fingers and thumbs extended to form the number 77, which was Willock’s jersey number. There currently is not a No. 77 on Georgia’s 2023 roster.
New digs
Sanford Stadium will unveil its new and improved south side at Saturday’s game. Georgia completed Phase I of a $63.5 million improvement project that expanded the 100 and 200 concourses on the Bulldogs’ side of the field and added hundreds of toilets, new concession areas and other amenities, primarily in the southwest corner of the 94-year-old stadium.
The most significant change, however, is going to be on Gillis Bridge, which traverses the west end of the stadium. During the week, the road that crosses that bridge, serves as the main traffic corridor connecting North and South campus. But starting at 7 p.m. Friday, the bridge will be closed to both pedestrian and automobile traffic and fitted with removable gates that provide main entry points to both sides of the 92,746-seat stadium. Like those in all other areas of the stadium, Gate 1 and 9 won’t be open for ticketed-spectator entry until two hours before kickoff, or 4 p.m. Saturday.
That means the bridge will be closed when the Georgia football team makes the celebrated Dawg Walk march into the stadium at 3:45 p.m. Saturday.
Phase II of the construction project will get underway immediately after the Bulldogs’ Nov. 11 home game against Ole Miss, their last of the season. That phase will build on top of the lower-level construction and add a new press box and other game-operation spaces that will connect with the South’s 300 upper-level section.

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