ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia will be without one of its top defensive weapons for the Aug. 31 opener at Clemson.
If that doesn’t sound like a broken record, it should.
Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is just the latest example. On Tuesday, he joined 2011 All-American safety Bacarri Rambo and 2013 first-round NFL pick at linebacker Alec Ogletree as Georgia standouts ordered to miss the start of a season for the dreaded “violation of team rules” following marijuana-related incidents.
Rambo, who was also suspended for the 2011 opener against Boise State, and Ogletree each missed the first four games of last season after at least two marijuana-related incidents apiece. Harvey-Clemons is suspended following a May 15 incident at his dorm room where he and former UGA teammate Ty Flournoy-Smith admitted to campus police that they had been using marijuana, although neither player was charged with a crime. As a first-time offender, Harvey-Clemons will miss only the first game against Clemson, but his absence will be painful nonetheless.
The sophomore -- whom ESPN rated as the nation’s top outside linebacker prospect in 2012 -- was one of the stars of Georgia’s spring practices and earned the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP award just before the spring game. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has repeatedly maintained that the 6-foot-5 Harvey-Clemons’ wide array of athletic skills will enable the coaching staff to use him at both strong safety and outside linebacker based on matchups, making him perhaps the most difficult player for Clemson’s coaches to plan for before the opener.
Now Grantham will not have that weapon at his disposal for the first week, which will make defending Tajh Boyd and the Tigers’ high-flying offense that much more difficult for the Bulldogs.
For Bulldogs fans looking for any way to take comfort in Harvey-Clemons’ temporary absence, this suspension is not the same as longtime starter Rambo missing time in the secondary. While he has no shortage of potential, Harvey-Clemons has barely played on scrimmage downs and has yet to start a college game.
In addition, Grantham frequently discusses how injuries, suspensions and matchups dictated that he trot out a different starting lineup on close to a weekly basis over the last two seasons, so the coaching staff has more than enough experience adjusting on the fly.
A greater long-term concern is that once again, Georgia players have proved South Carolina’s wise-cracking coach Steve Spurrier correct. Spurrier told ESPN’s Chris Low last summer that “I always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”
Spurrier’s Gamecocks get the Bulldogs in Week 2 again this fall after playing their SEC East rival at midseason last year for the first time since South Carolina joined the conference in 1992. That Oct. 6 game in Columbia -- a 35-7 South Carolina thrashing -- was just the second game back in the lineup for Rambo and Ogletree, and the Bulldogs clearly lacked defensive continuity at the time.
If the Bulldogs make it to the opener with only Harvey-Clemons missing among the projected starters, Georgia’s personnel situation will not be nearly as drastic as a year ago, when cornerback Sanders Commings and outside linebacker Chase Vasser also sat out the first two games following offseason arrests.
However, Grantham’s retooled defense, which lost 12 key players, can’t afford many disruptions if it is to be ready for a grueling first month of the season, and the absence of one of its key pieces could have a devastating effect in Death Valley.