ATHENS — Justin Houston’s two-game suspension is ending at the perfect time to help Georgia’s pass rush.
Houston, a sophomore defensive end, had to sit out the first two games for No. 23 Georgia as his punishment from coach Mark Richt for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Houston returns as the replacement for starter Rod Battle, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week’s win over South Carolina.
There’s another reason Houston’s debut is well-timed: Georgia (1-1 overall, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) needs an improved pass rush from its defensive ends in Saturday night’s game at Arkansas (1-0, 0-0), which passed for 447 yards in its 48-10 opening win over Missouri State.
“It feels great to be back,” Houston said Wednesday. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for what seems like whatever.
“I came back at the right time, thank God, but I wish that had never happened to Rod.”
Houston made only one start as a freshman. He had 2« sacks and 19 tackles while spending most of the 2008 season as a backup.
“He’s got potential for sure, and he was practicing that way in the spring,” Richt said. “He has practiced well in the fall. Every day after practice he stayed out after practice and made sure he was staying in the best condition he could. He worked on his fundamentals on his own.”
Houston said his success in the spring game “raised my expectations a lot. It gave me a lot of motivation for this season. Hopefully I can capitalize on that.”
Richt said Houston is eager to make up for his lost time.
“He’s very, very hungry right now, I can tell you that,” Richt said. “He could not stand not being there. It was tough on him, but he handled it like you hope a young man would. I’m proud of how he handled his discipline.”
The defense has only two sacks in two games this season, including one by a defensive end, backup Cornelius Washington.
Demarcus Dobbs is expected to join Houston as the starting defensive ends at Arkansas.
With Houston out, Georgia tried defensive tackles Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins and linebacker Marcus Washington at end.
Houston’s production could help determine the continued need for help at the position following Battle’s injury.
Houston hasn’t disclosed the rules violation that led to the suspension, but he says he turned the punishment into a positive experience.
“When I got in trouble it changed my mindset,” he said. “I know it’s a positive. The way I’m working now, I’d have never worked like this. Every day in practice I tried to practice like I was still going to play.”
Rennie Curran, who leads Georgia with 23 tackles, said he expects Houston to be the big-play force at defensive end the Bulldogs have lacked.
“There’s not too many guys who have worked harder than he has,” Curran said.