ATHENS, Ga. — For Rantavious Wooten, Georgia’s season opener for Buffalo was like a new beginning.
The fourth-year junior suffered a concussion in a car accident three games into the 2011 season and decided to take a medical redshirt, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.
On Saturday, he made sure fans knew he was back and ready to play by catching two passes for 45 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“It felt so good to out there,” Wooten said. “It felt good playing against somebody else and getting after it. That’s been my drive this whole summer – just get out there, stay healthy and make it to the first game.”
Georgia head coach Mark Richt said it was hard not to notice Wooten’s approach in the offseason.
“(Wooten) did great today,” he said. “He had a great off-season and camp. Everyone bragged about what a great summer he had. It’s paying off for him. Guys made comments about the type of off-season he had.”
With Malcolm Mitchell’s move to the cornerback, some wondered who would step up as a speedy deep threat. Quarterback Aaron Murray recently said that Wooten, along with Tavarres King, was growing into that role. After Saturday’s game, Murray stood by his comments.
“Wooten is a speedster,” he said. “He’s able to get on top of coverage. He’s really able to extend the field, and that’s great. I don’t know many guys that can cover him.
“He had the one touchdown, and I barely missed him on another one. He could’ve had two today.”
Wooten also missed a chance for a passing touchdown. On a first down play from the Buffalo 39-yard line, Murray threw a lateral to Wooten who then tossed a deep pass to freshman Keith Marshall that was broken up inside the 10-yard line.
“We were running it in practice and I was throwing well,” Wooten said. “One time they called it again, and I got so excited I dropped it. That haunted me until today. I went into the game today thinking about that drop. When they called the play, I was like ‘I’m not about to drop this.’”
Though Wooten didn’t drop the throw from Murray, he was disappointed in the results.
“The hardest part is catching it,” said Wooten, who played some quarterback at Glades Central High in Belle Glade, Fla. “It felt like I was back in high school. I didn’t have any pressure, didn’t have to worry about anything. I didn’t even see the defensive back, honestly. It wasn’t until I threw it that I noticed he was there. I thought I had a touchdown.”
Wooten smiled when asked if he’d make that throw again.
“I feel like I can make that throw,” said Wooten, who added that if Georgia ever needed him to play quarterback, “I’m the man.”
TRUE FRESHMEN GALORE: In addition to running back Todd Gurley, true freshmen were active all over the field for Georgia on Saturday. In fact, 13 true freshmen saw playing time – a record for a season opener in Richt’s tenure.
“A lot of guys played the special teams, kickers included,” he said. “We did have some freshmen taking some snaps. … I really do like this freshman class. I’ve been impressed with them athletically. They’re very coachable, teachable … I think we did a good job recruiting that class.”
Three true freshmen – kicker Marshall Morgan, right tackle John Theus and punter Collin Barber – started the game. Tailback Keith Marshall, another heralded recruit, finished with 10 carries for 51 yards.
“We had a great recruiting class,” Marshall said. “Guys came in and worked hard over the summer and earned some playing time.”
Fullback Quayvon Hicks, tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith and center Preston Mobley also saw playing time on offense Saturday.
On defense, cornerback Sheldon Dawson, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and outside linebackers James DeLoach and Josh Dawson saw action Saturday. Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins finished with two tackles in his first game as a Bulldog.
“I feel like our class is something different,” Jenkins said. “We all love to work hard. We want to prove something. We’re a unique class that no school has ever had, and we all want to work hard and win.”
Jenkins said he didn’t know what to expect heading into the opener, but his elder teammates have helped him and his fellow freshmen classmates prepare.
“I didn’t expect to play this much and didn’t know how loud it was going to be, but I know what to expect now,” Jenkins said. “The older guys haven’t cut us any slack. They treat us like juniors and seniors.”
Jenkins said one teammate stays on top of his progress more than others.
“Jarvis (Jones) doesn’t give me any slack at all,” he said. “I told Jarvis ‘everytime I mess up or do something wrong, I’ll do up-downs.’”
When asked how many up-downs he’s had to do, Jenkins laughed and said, “I’ve done about 10 or 20.”
INJURY NOTES: Gurley went into the locker room after his 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown. He returned later in the first half. … … Offensive guard Chris Burnette was treated by Georgia’s medical staff early in the second half, but was also able to return. … Starting tailback Ken Malcome suffered a hand injury in the third quarter and was unable to return. … Theus left the game in the second half with an ankle injury and did not return.
EXTRA POINTS: Georgia’s captain’s for Saturdays game were Murray, Shawn Williams, Ty Frix and Abry Jones. … Connor Norman received the start at free safety in place of Bacarri Rambo. Christian Robinson started in the absence of Alec Ogletree, and Ramik Wilson got his first career start filling in for Chase Vasser. Devin Bowman played short corner. … Actor Samuel L. Jackson performed the voice-over for a pregame video montage shown on Sanford Stadium’s scoreboard. Jackson visited a Georgia practice last week.