The irony of it all is that Israel Troupe wasn’t supposed to be on the field for what turned out to be the biggest play of his career to date. In fact, the primary contributors to his 50-yard touchdown reception last week against Auburn didn’t even know he was on the field.
Star receiver A.J. Green had just made a 12-yard grab and come down hard on his left shoulder. He came off the field and was immediately surrounded by Georgia’s training staff. Troupe rushed into the game for a rare appearance without much fanfare.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo signaled in the play call — one Georgia had worked on all week. Quarterback Joe Cox would go deep to the flanker on a take-off route. With Green hauling it in so often during practice, it seemed like a sure thing. Had Cox realized Troupe was in the game, it might have been different.
“I didn’t see him until I had come off my play fake,” Cox said. “I didn’t know (Green) had gotten hurt. No one knew he went down. I thought the reason Coach Bobo called the play is because A.J. was in the game. When I’m in the huddle, the receivers are right behind me, and I never turned around to see who was in the game. But he made a big play.”
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As it turned out, the injury to Green’s shoulder proved serious — the sophomore standout won’t play this week against Kentucky and could miss the remainder of the regular season. That means Troupe will be called upon again, and this time his presence on the field won’t be a secret.
“I’m just trying to stay level-headed and work hard like I do in practice,” said Troupe, owner of just six receptions in his three seasons in Athens. “I’m not really worried about starting this week. We’ll see what happens when game day comes along. But I’m sure I’ll get my snaps, and I’m just working on being prepared.”
That preparation paid off last week. Troupe wasn’t expecting the ball to come his way on his first play of the game, but when it did, he wasn’t overwhelmed. He was ready.
“I just couldn’t believe it was coming to me, actually,” Troupe said. “I just kind of blocked everything out and concentrated on the ball. When I caught it and saw the end zone, I was just like, ‘Get there as fast as you can.’ I kind of stumbled getting in there, but I made it.”
The touchdown was Georgia’s first score of the game and lit the spark that ignited a furious second-half comeback and a 31-24 victory over the Tigers. But while the 50-yarder was big, Troupe added some emphasis to remind fans he was no one-trick pony.
On a second-and-5 play with the game tied at 17, Cox zipped a pass over the middle, a few feet ahead of Troupe’s route. Troupe jumped forward, stretched out and hauled in the pass for a 12-yard gain and a first down. The Bulldogs finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run by Caleb King to take the lead for the first time in the game.
“The second one meant a lot to me just for the simple fact that I sold out to get it,” Troupe said. “It was a big play, and just making that play meant a lot. It was painful when I hit the ground, but it felt good making the play.”
There’s more where that came from, Troupe promised.
With Green on the sidelines this week, head coach Mark Richt has yet to name a starter at the flanker spot, but Troupe’s strong performance against Auburn gives him hope. And for much of the past two years, hope has been in short supply for the former No. 1 receiver recruit in the state.
“At the beginning of the year, he was a lot more frustrated,” senior receiver Michael Moore said. “He wasn’t getting the playing time he wanted, and being stuck behind A.J., you don’t really get too many opportunities.”
Troupe admits the limited playing time after three seasons in Athens hurt his attitude.
Georgia had just six scholarship receivers to start the season, and two were true freshmen. Troupe was sure he would get his chance this year. But as the weeks went on and he was still seeing just a handful of snaps – and no catches – the frustration mounted.
“I was real stubborn at the beginning of the season because I wasn’t getting the playing time I felt I deserved,” Troupe said. “I really didn’t know what was going on, but I kept my head up. I knew that sooner or later my chance would come around, so I went out and practiced hard every week, and it paid off.”
It’s not easy to make your mark behind a player of Green’s caliber, Bobo said, but Troupe’s work ethic rarely wavered. His consistency was an issue — flashes of greatness mixed with doses of mediocrity — but persistence was never a problem.
Last week, the opportunity finally came, even if it wasn’t the way anyone might have planned. And this week, there will no doubt be more opportunities for Troupe to prove himself.
“It’s been a humbling experience, and I think he’s handled it well,” Cox said. “He’s still worked hard like he needs to, and it shows in games when he gets a chance to come in. Now we need it, and he just needs to keep it up.”