Georgia’s Smart faces former assistant Lanning in season opener

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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ATHENS, Ga. — When you build a powerhouse program, it’s inevitable that others will try to copy your success.

That means hiring people who work for you.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart will see another familiar face on the opposing sideline when the reigning national champion Bulldogs open the season against No. 11 Oregon.

Smart’s former defensive coordinator, Dan Lanning, is now guiding the Ducks. In his head coaching debut, he’ll take on the No. 3 Bulldogs in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta.

“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.”

As Smart heads into his seventh season as the Bulldogs’ boss, the list of assistants-turned-head coaches is growing.

He is 2-0 against his ex-offensive line coach, Arkansas’ Sam Pittman, and last year beat South Carolina’s Shane Beamer, who was on Smart’s staff in 2016 and ’17.

Now, the 36-year-old Lanning will become the third of Smart’s former staffers to take a shot at knocking off the old boss.

There won’t be a bunch of warm, fuzzy feelings at the reunion.

“I don’t think the game has anything to do with that,” Smart said. “Neither Dan nor I will be worried about each other during the game.”

The opener, which will be played before what figures to be a very pro-Georgia crowd at 75,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will be an early indicator of where both programs stand.

Georgia is looking to make another run at the national championship despite losing a record 15 players in the NFL draft – five of them first-rounders off a stellar defensive unit that carried the Bulldogs to their first title since 1980.

With the Pac-12 in turmoil and speculation that they could soon be headed to the Big Ten, the Ducks hope to build on the success they had during Mario Cristobal‘s four-year tenure, which featured a pair of conference championships.

When Cristobal left for Miami, the Ducks quickly turned to Georgia’s co-defensive coordinator.

They made a good choice, according to Smart, whose relationship with Lanning goes back to 2015 when both were on Nick Saban‘s staff at Alabama.

“I had a great relationship with Dan when he worked at University of Alabama, and had a lot of respect for how he went about doing his job,” Smart said. “He didn’t try to be somebody he wasn’t. He didn’t try to impress people. He just worked and he grinded, and he really did a good job of just doing what you asked him to do. I always thought he would be successful.”

When Smart left for his first head coaching job at Georgia in 2016, he kept an eye on Lanning. The Bulldogs had an opening on their staff two years later and hired him as the outside linebackers coach.

“It ended up being a no-brainer for us to bring Danny in because I knew the value he had,” Smart recalled.

Lanning was promoted to co-defensive coordinator a year later after Mel Tucker left for Colorado, receiving much of the credit for building one of college football’s greatest defenses.

“I knew he was going to do a great job,” Smart said.

Lanning’s co-coordinator, Glenn Schumann, is still at Georgia. He’ll continue in that role along with former Florida and South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp.

Smart said it’s been a smooth transition, especially because Muschamp was already on the staff as special teams coordinator.

“Dan would be the first to tell you he never would’ve had the success he had here if not for Glenn Schumann,” Smart said. “I felt comfortable Glenn would be able to take it over along with Will. It’s great when we have two guys that know the system and two guys that can share that responsibility.”

Before he even coached a game, Lanning had to deal with tragedy within his new team.

Tight end and social media star Spencer Webb died last month in an accidental fall at a popular swimming lake. The Ducks will wear a special decal on their helmets this season featuring Webb’s No. 4 inside a spider web.

“Our team has a void,” Lanning said. “It’s something you certainly cannot replace. 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.”

In addition to an entirely new coaching staff, the Ducks have a bunch of newcomers on their roster. They brought in 21 players through the transfer portal, 15 of them from Power Five schools.

Lanning has plenty of familiarity with Georgia’s defense.

Of course, that works both ways.

“Kirby Smart is not going to play a single snap on Saturday, and neither is Dan Lanning,” the Oregon coach said. “It doesn’t really matter what I know. It’s what my players know and how well they can execute.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.