NCF Nation: Jonathon Rumph

Injuries impacted UGA, Nebraska seasons

December, 23, 2013
This season's similarities are striking for the combatants in this season's Gator Bowl, Georgia and Nebraska. Perhaps the most notable similarity between the Bulldogs (8-4) and Cornhuskers (8-4), though, is the numerous injuries that helped prevent them from playing up to their potential.'s David Ching and Mitch Sherman discussed how injuries affected the teams' seasons and what might have been if not for all the physical ailments.

1. Out of all of the injuries they sustained this season, which one was the costliest and why?

Ching: There are a lot of directions you could go here, but Todd Gurley's ankle injury and ensuing three-and-a-half-game absence probably hurt the most. Gurley is one of the biggest difference-makers in the country, and Georgia's potent offense simply wasn't as good without him in the lineup -- particularly when fellow tailback Keith Marshall suffered a season-ending knee injury the week after Gurley went down against LSU. It's not a coincidence that Georgia bounced back from a two-game losing streak upon Gurley's return, nor that the Bulldogs went 4-1 down the stretch once he was back. He totaled 755 yards and 10 touchdowns in those five games.

Sherman: Taylor Martinez began this season as most indispensable Husker -- and by November, we saw why. Without the fifth-year senior, who started a school-record 43 games at quarterback, including four this season, the Nebraska offense shifted from the strength of this team to a liability. The Huskers failed to gain 400 yards in each of their final four games. Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III performed admirably, but their numbers paled in comparison to the production expected from a healthy Martinez. In good position to become the second QB in FBS history to surpass 9,000 career passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards, he suffered the fateful foot injury in Nebraska’s season opener. By mid-September, his limitations were painfully apparent, stamped into the record books with losses to UCLA and Minnesota in Martinez’s final two starts.

2. Which position group dealt with the most injury issues?

Sherman: Problems on the offensive line began on the opening series of the sixth game against Purdue as All-Big Ten right guard Spencer Long went down with a season-ending knee injury. Long was the leader of the line and a motivating force for the entire team as a senior captain and former walk-on turned solid NFL prospect. As soon as his linemates began to wear Long’s jersey No. 61 as a tribute, the injury bug spread. First, it was left guard Jake Cotton. Tackles Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale, despite staying in the lineup, dealt with injuries, too, as did center-turned-guard Cole Pensick. Long’s replacement, Mike Moudy, missed the final four games. The injuries hurt most in practice, and Long’s injury got the snowball rolling. Before the Purdue game, Nebraska rushed for 285 yards or more in four of five games. After Purdue, it never topped 195 on the ground.

Ching: Georgia's safeties could make a reasonable argument here, but let's go with the receivers. Malcolm Mitchell suffered perhaps the most bizarre injury of the season when he tore an ACL while leaping into the air to celebrate Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run against Clemson on the Bulldogs' second offensive possession of the fall. Justin Scott-Wesley, who essentially caught the game-winning touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against South Carolina and LSU, tore an ACL while covering a punt against Tennessee. Michael Bennett and Chris Conley also missed multiple games with midseason injuries, and junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph didn't play until Game 8 against Florida after injuring his hamstring in August. Because of the regular lineup shuffling, six Bulldogs have at least 20 catches this season.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia went 4-1 after sophomore RB Todd Gurley returned to the lineup, and the only loss was the 'Miracle at Jordan-Hare.'
3. What do you think this team might have accomplished if health hadn't become such a factor?

Ching: I hesitate to say Georgia would have been a BCS title contender because its defense was probably not championship caliber. But it's hard to predict what might have been with any certainty since the Bulldogs started losing key contributors in the first quarter of the first game. I'll go so far as to say the Bulldogs at least would have won a third straight SEC East title and been in the running for an at-large BCS bowl spot. With Aaron Murray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury of his own against Kentucky, at the trigger and an impressive array of skill talent, this had the potential to be the scariest offense Georgia has ever put on the field, but we never saw the full complement for even one full game.

Sherman: It’s difficult to quantify in wins and losses, considering the other problems that plagued these Huskers, notably with turnovers and on special teams. Nebraska could have outscored Minnesota with a healthy Martinez and Long. And it’s likely that the second-half meltdown against UCLA never would have happened if Martinez was operating at full strength. The Huskers moved the ball well in a 41-28 loss to Michigan State. Injuries weren’t the issue against the Spartans; turnovers were, but freshmen committed all five. And Martinez, while turnover-prone since his freshman season, torched the Spartans a year ago. But even at 10-2, Nebraska would have missed a repeat trip to the Big Ten title game.

Mitchell's loss tough blow to UGA

September, 1, 2013
With another top-10 opponent on deck, Georgia will be down a weapon after getting bad news on Sunday.

An MRI confirmed that receiver Malcolm Mitchell injured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the first quarter of the Bulldogs' 38-35 loss to Clemson on Saturday.

The junior from Valdosta, Ga., was the team's leading returning receiver from last season, catching 40 passes for 572 yards. Mitchell, who suffered the injury while celebrating with running back Todd Gurley after Gurley's 75-yard first-quarter touchdown run, is out for the remainder of the season.

[+] EnlargeChris Conley
AP Photo/ Richard ShiroWith Malcolm Mitchell gone for the season, it's up to receiver such as Chris Conley to step up for Georgia.
It's a big blow for the Bulldogs, as Mitchell is one of the better big-play receivers in the conference. This means the Bulldogs need other receivers to emerge, with a couple showing signs of that potential last night. Sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley produced four catches for 55 yards in place of Mitchell and junior Chris Conley added three receptions for a team-high 67 yards.

Junior Michael Bennett, who missed the final nine games of last season with an ACL injury, was on his way to a strong 2012 season before it was cut short by injury. He had a team-high five catches for 60 yards in the loss to Clemson and will also be a key option as the Bulldogs attempt to adjust in Mitchell's absence.

The timing is tough because Georgia must host No. 6 South Carolina on Saturday. The Bulldogs dealt with similar circumstances a year ago, when Mitchell was injured the week before they played the Gamecocks, who proceeded to blast Georgia 35-7.

Really, you can't attribute this to anything but simple bad luck. Mitchell went airborne to do a chest bump with Gurley, something you see dozens -- if not hundreds -- of players across the country in college football do every week when they score a touchdown or force a turnover. You even see players do it in practices at different schools. He landed awkwardly, and it's a simply unfortunate result.

Georgia will miss Mitchell's presence, but it does have solid depth at receiver and players capable of helping pick up the slack. In addition to Bennett, Conley and Scott-Wesley, look for others such as Rantavious Wooten, Rhett McGowan and perhaps junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph -- who missed the Clemson game with a hamstring injury but is expected back soon -- to help in that capacity. Rumph was the No. 1 receiver in the 2013 ESPN JC 100 rankings.

Should Mitchell be awarded a medical redshirt (he does have a redshirt year available anyways), he could return next season with his final two seasons of eligibility intact. But for now, the Bulldogs will have to come up with a plan for the Gamecocks next week and for the season moving forward.