First-year Oregon coach Dan Lanning said he might wait until shortly before Saturday’s game to announce his starting quarterback for the No. 11 Ducks’ showdown against No. 3 Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta.
Perhaps it’s just a bit of gamesmanship between Lanning and his former boss, Georgia coach Kirby Smart. Lanning spent the previous four seasons on Smart’s staff — the past three as co-defensive coordinator — and helped the Bulldogs win the national title last season.
The Ducks are expected to start transfer Bo Nix, a three-year starter at Auburn, over redshirt freshman Ty Thompson at quarterback.
“That really doesn’t impact anything for us,” Smart said. “I know who the quarterback is going to be. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried a lot more about how our guys play and what our guys do and how our guys execute.”
Lanning acknowledged it’ll be a bit strange facing his former employer in his head coaching debut.
“There’s definitely some feelings of excitement for me to go play a team I care about and was a big part of for a long time,” Lanning said. “But that’s not the focus. My job, as well as the players’ job, is to focus on the task at hand.”
The Bulldogs lost a record 15 players from their championship team to the NFL draft — including five first-rounders from the defense that was led by co-coordinators Lanning and Glenn Schumann. They also had 13 players transfer.
Figuring that two heads are better than one, Smart has turned the defense — which allowed a modern-record 6.9 points per game in the regular season — over to Schumann and former South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, who already was on the staff as the special teams coordinator.
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs again will be led by former walk-on Stetson Bennett, the offensive MVP of the 33-18 victory against Alabama in the national championship game last season.
“We’re on top of the world, but we’re going to see the world here in a few weeks,” Bennett told Sports Illustrated earlier this month. “Better be ready.”
The Ducks have had to cope with the offseason death of popular tight end Spencer Webb, who suffered a fall at a lake. Oregon players will wear a decal on their helmets with his No. 4 inside a spider’s web.
“Our team has a void. It’s something you cannot replace,” Lanning said. “I’ve talked to our players about that moment and Spencer, how on your tombstone there’s a day you were born and a day when you passed, but what made Spencer special was how he lived that dash in between those two numbers.”
Like the Bulldogs, Oregon has plenty of newcomers on its roster, as Lanning utilized the transfer portal to bring in Power 5 talent such as Nix and running back Mar’Keise Irving.
Lanning downplayed any advantage he might have of knowing Georgia’s defensive system — as well as the Smart vs. Lanning story line.
“Kirby Smart is not going to play a single snap on Saturday, and neither is Dan Lanning,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what I know. It’s what my players know and how well they can execute.”
–Field Level Media