ATHENS, Ga. — Kenarious Gates is hearing it this week from Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend.
Not so much about the elite playmaker who gave him fits in his last game, but about this week’s matchup pitting the team he plays for against Kentucky, the team he nearly joined in 2010 until backing off a commitment prior to signing day.
“He called it a battle of the KGs,” Gates said.
“Coach Friend’s enjoyed harassing him about that,” offensive guard Dallas Lee said. “I’m sure he’ll come out and play tremendous coming off a somewhat disappointing appearance against South Carolina.”
The 6-foot-5, 318-pound junior seemed to be settling into his new spot at left tackle, but he had not gone up against anyone like South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.
“Going against great talent has helped me get better,” Gates said.
Moving from left guard, where he started last season, Gates has had to deal with better speed from edge rushers.
“Overall, I think I’ve done pretty good,” Gates said. “There are areas that I need to improve and get better in, but overall, I feel pretty confident out there.”
The 6-6 Clowney was more than a handful. He had a sack, four tackles, including two for loss, and kept the pressure on quarterback Aaron Murray.
“I know people want to jump (at saying) KG is not playing good because of that, but I mean, Clowney’s a freak,” Lee said. “He was cutting at, like, the dude’s waist. There are not many people that can jump over somebody that big, cutting him that high and keep going like he did. He did what he was taught to do on those protections.”
Gates said Clowney figured out the snap count as the game went on and “got a good jump on me.” Clowney told reporters he saw Georgia’s guards tapping center David Andrews hip.
“He taught me what I need to improve on,” Gates said. “Hey, get him next year.”
Some expected blue-chip prospect John Theus to eventually become Georgia’s left tackle, but the starting right tackle said he is not had any left tackle work and said he doesn’t know if that’s in his future.
Coach Mark Richt said Tuesday that Gates “is our best left tackle right now. We don’t have any doubt about that. I think he’s done a good job.”
Gates says he wants to finish his career at the position.
“I can work either way, at left guard or left tackle,” he said. “I can move to the right side if that’s the case.”
Georgia is recruiting five-star Lake City, Fla., lineman Laremy Tunsil, who could play at left tackle.
“I would think whoever the best left tackle is for Georgia next season will start at left tackle,” Richt said. “I wouldn’t say that Kenarious has nailed it down for the rest of his career.”
Kentucky could certainly use Gates. It is giving up more than 21/2 sacks a game.
Gates didn’t have to ditch an entire blue-and-white wardrobe after his switch to the red and black.
“I had like a couple of shirts,” Gates said. “I was ready to go there, and Georgia came along, and I always wanted to come here.”
The Bulldogs offered the three-star prospect from Grantville after top-10 national prospect Da’Rick Rogers switched to Tennessee.
Rogers left Tennessee this season after being indefinitely suspended and now plays receiver at Tennessee Tech.
Stacy Searels, Georgia’s offensive line coach at the time, phoned Gates’ home and offered him a scholarship on the Monday night before signing day. Gates was watching television at the time when his mother took the call.
“I was like, ‘Georgia at 10 o’clock at night, really?” Gates said.
He spoke to Searels, put down the phone for a couple of minutes to talk to his mom and decided to make the switch right then.
Gates phoned Kentucky’s Joker Phillips the next morning. He was the head-coach-in-waiting at the time and now is a coach whose job appears in jeopardy after a 1-6 start.
“I haven’t paid any attention to that,” said Gates, who called Phillips “a nice guy and a good person.”
Gates has 18 career starts at Georgia. Only Murray and receiver Tavarres King have more among current offensive players.
“It worked out really well,” Lee said. “He’s played a huge part in the last two seasons. It’s great that he’s here.”