ATHENS, Ga. - Joe Tereshinski had just trotted off the field after a punt when he got quite a battlefield promotion. He was going from special teams to quarterback for the fourth-ranked team in the country.
Next weekend, unbeaten Georgia will probably turn to "Joe T" again for the biggest game of the season.
Coach Mark Richt confirmed Sunday that starter D.J. Shockley sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and isn't expected to play in next Saturday's crucial game against Florida.
So, it looks like Tereshinski will get his first career start in the most glaring of spotlights, the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" against Georgia's biggest nemesis with a season's worth of goals on the line. The Bulldogs (7-0) can clinch a spot in the Southeastern Conference title game - and they can't afford any slip-ups if they want to remain part of the national championship race.
"I don't want to do anything to make this team lose," Tereshinski said.
It's quite a burden to place on a third-generation Bulldog known primarily for his work on the special teams.
This season, in addition to being the backup quarterback, Tereshinski was the guy stationed near the punter on special teams, given the assignment of blocking anyone who might slip through the line. In the past, he filled in as the punt snapper.
"He's a tough son of a gun," Richt said. "He's one of those guys who'll do whatever it takes for his team, and he'll do it with a lot of enthusiasm."
Tereshinski's special team duties have been put on hold this week. He'll work with the first-team offense in practice, then - unless Shockley makes some sort of miracle recovery - lead the Bulldogs against a team they have beaten only two times in the past 15 years.
While Shockley was the top-rated quarterback in the SEC, Richt is confident that his team won't fall apart with Tereshinski taking the snaps.
"We're not a team that's got a bunch of superstars," the coach said. "This is not a one-man show. It's certainly not good to lose your starting quarterback, especially as good as he was playing. But we're more concerned with what we're going to do now than what we've lost."
Tereshinski's teammates fell right in line behind the coach.
"In this sport, you've got to expect people to go down every single game," receiver Sean Bailey said. "What separates us from other teams is how together we are. When someone falls down, someone else jumps up to replace him."
Actually, Shockley's injury probably worked out as well as could be expected. In the second quarter of Saturday's game against Arkansas, his knee got twisted when he attempted to scramble up the middle on a third-and-long play. He remained on the turf for a few seconds, then hobbled to the sideline in obvious pain.
"We had the punt team going in, so I had to go in and do my job there," Tereshinski said. "When I came back after the punt, coach told me to warm up. I was going in at quarterback."
Shockley's prognosis didn't look good when he came out on crutches to watch the second half, his knee heavily taped. But nothing was torn and it appears he'll be able to return for the Nov. 12 game against Auburn, benefiting from an off week after Florida.
"We're just very thankful that it looks like he'll be back for the Auburn game and be able to finish his senior year the way we were hoping he could," Richt said. "In the meantime, we've got to find a way to win without him."
Tereshinski got the first meaningful quarterback time of his career against Arkansas, and did just enough to help Georgia slip by the Razorbacks 23-20 - an unimpressive performance against a three-touchdown underdog.
The junior completed his first pass for 16 yards, leading to a short touchdown run, and connected on a 43-yarder - the longest of his career - to set up a field goal just before halftime. But he also botched a handoff to begin the second half, causing a fumble that gave Arkansas a field goal, and threw an interception in Georgia territory early in the fourth quarter that handed the Razorbacks another scoring chance. They missed the field goal, and the Bulldogs held on for the win.
Wanting to keep things simple, Richt reduced the size of the playbook after Tereshinski went in the game. In hindsight, the coach believes that was a mistake.
"You've got to go to the line of scrimmage with a couple of options," Richt said. "I took some of those out of his hands. I probably hurt him more than I helped."
Richt said he won't make the same mistake against the Gators. Tereshinski will run most of the same plays that Shockley did - and the Bulldogs will put their season in Joe T's hands.
"I've got to think of it as just another game," he said. "I can't be too nervous or too uptight."
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