NCF Nation: Justin Scott-Wesley

Three key factors in UGA-Missouri game

October, 10, 2014
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By the end of the day Saturday, there might be a clear front-runner in the SEC East race -- and that team will likely be the winner of the matchup between No. 13 Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC) and No. 23 Missouri (4-1, 1-0).

With help from ESPN Stats & Information, let's take a look at key factors in Saturday's game in Columbia:

No Gurley, what now?: By now it's no secret that Georgia's offense will operate without the dominant running ability of tailback Todd Gurley (94 carries, 773 yards, 8 TDs, SEC-high 154.6 rushing yards per game). The guy was a Heisman Trophy front-runner for good reason, but now Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo must assemble a game plan against Missouri for the second straight year without his most potent weapon.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia will miss the unique ability of Todd Gurley (above) to gain yards after contact, but freshman Nick Chubb is a suitable replacement.
The Bulldogs played without injured backs Gurley and Keith Marshall last season and actually fared OK on the ground against Missouri. Then-freshmen J.J. Green (12 carries, 87 yards) and Brendan Douglas (14-70) enjoyed success on the ground against Mizzou last season and Georgia now must turn to Plans B, C and D against the Tigers again.

Green is now playing defense, so he's out of the picture. But Nick Chubb provides a fairly decent resemblance to Gurley. The freshman (31-224, 7.2 yards per carry) is Georgia's second-leading rusher behind Gurley. Marshall and Sony Michel remain sidelined by injuries, so Chubb and Douglas (sixth on the team with 47 rushing yards in limited duty) might be in line for the biggest workloads out of the backfield -- particularly Chubb.

About one of every five of Chubb's carries (six out of 31) has gone for at least 10 yards, and he's averaging 3.77 yards after contact per carry, which isn't much worse than Gurley's 3.9 YAC -- the best among all Power 5 backs with at least 50 carries. Nonetheless, Gurley's absence is devastating for Georgia and will require massive adjustments late in the week in order for the Bulldogs to get out of Columbia with a win.

One thing that helps the Bulldogs' cause is that Missouri's defense has had mixed results against the run.

Indiana ran 50 times for 241 yards and three touchdowns in its upset win over the Tigers. Hoosiers running back Tevin Coleman averaged 3.95 yards after contact per run that day en route to rushing 19 times for 132 yards and a score. As we've already discussed, YAC is one of power runner Chubb's trademarks, so Missouri tacklers are going to have to bring it Saturday. He's not Gurley, but he ain't bad, either.

Mizzou pass rush: Although Georgia has been more run-heavy compared to recent seasons -- the team is running the ball 64 percent of the time this season compared to 51 percent in 2013 -- the Bulldogs need to produce more in the passing game with Gurley out of the picture.

And Missouri -- particularly star defensive linemen Shane Ray and Markus Golden -- would be perfectly happy to see the Bulldogs try to air it out. Ray ranks second in the FBS and leads the SEC with eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. Golden is third in the SEC with four sacks and fifth with 6.5 tackles for loss.

Georgia fans might remember Ray as the pass-rusher who laid a crushing hit on quarterback Aaron Murray last season, forcing a fumble that Mizzou end Michael Sam scooped up and ran in for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 28-10 lead.

Ray had two sacks for a loss of 14 yards in the Tigers' comeback win against South Carolina. Between Ray, Matt Hoch and Harold Brantley, Mizzou had four sacks for 37 yards of lost ground for the Gamecocks.

More good news for Mizzou: It hasn't needed to blitz in order to generate effective pressure. Since the start of last season, the Tigers have 50 sacks when sending four pass-rushers or fewer, the most of any Power 5 school.

QB comparison: Georgia and Missouri both expected more productivity from the quarterback position than what they've gotten so far.

The issue might be slightly more alarming with Mizzou's Maty Mauk (1,110 passing yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs), whom many college football analysts expected to have a big season. Thus far, Mauk has a 47.1 score in ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating, which is the third-worst in the SEC and more than 30 points lower than his 77.9 from last season.

Third down in particular has been an issue for the Mizzou QB. Mauk is completing an SEC-low 38.1 percent of his third-down passes and ranks 10th among SEC quarterbacks in conversion percentage (29 percent).

Georgia's beleaguered secondary is vulnerable to a strong passing attack, but will Mauk -- whose breakout game last season was against Georgia -- take advantage? That might be the determining factor in Saturday's game. The Bulldogs are in the middle of the SEC pack in pass defense (seventh at 223 YPG), but they have surrendered 284 passing yards and three touchdowns in a shootout win against Tennessee, and 271 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout loss to South Carolina. Doing a better job against Mauk, receiver Bud Sasser (fourth in the SEC with averages of six catches and 90.8 yards per game), and the rest of Mizzou's receivers would greatly improve Georgia's chances of victory.

We've already discussed the challenge Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason will face from Missouri's dynamic pass rush. Aside from avoiding mistakes with Ray and Golden breathing down his neck, how much will Georgia expect from Mason and the passing game? Mason (687 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs) ranks 55th in the Total QBR standings with a 59.7 score -- not horrible, but not particularly impressive, either.

Mason hasn't worked with a full complement of receivers yet, but that's starting to change. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell played for the first time in more than a year last week against Vanderbilt, and Bulldogs coach Mark Richt expects receiver Justin Scott-Wesley and tight end Jay Rome to be back for the Missouri game, too.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Like many Georgia fans spoiled by the numbers and excitement former quarterback Aaron Murray generated during his illustrious Bulldogs career, quarterback Hutson Mason isn’t thrilled with the lack of a downfield passing presence within Georgia’s offense right now.

Four games into the 2014 season, Georgia’s passing game has been a shell of its former high-flying self, as Mason has yet to throw for 200 yards in a game and his longest pass has gone just 36 yards.

The good news is that the Bulldogs have just one loss and are a top-15 team, but Mason understands that this trend of a limited passing game can’t continue if the Dawgs want to make a run at the SEC title.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsShots downfield have been minimal this season for QB Hutson Mason and Georgia.
“We just gotta get better in the passing game all around,” Mason said. “From me to everybody else, we gotta get better.

“I’ll never apologize for winning a ball game. We did what we needed to do, but I will say we need to get better, I need to get better in the passing game.”

But when he was asked what it’s going to take for the passing game to improve, Mason admitted that’s the “million-dollar question.”

“Man, I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “We’ll go back to work; I’ll go back to work. I’ll learn from my mistakes and all I can do is just keep trusting my protection.”

More importantly, Mason added, he needs to develop more chemistry and trust in his receivers. That right there is a major part of the passing game’s struggles. With Malcolm Mitchell nursing a knee injury and Justin Scott-Wesley dealing with an early-season suspension, Georgia’s receiving corps lost some valuable depth during the first month of the season.

Veterans Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, who have combined for 25 catches and 298 yards with two touchdowns, could be gassed from so many practice reps, and youngsters, like Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis are still learning.

Now, freshman running back Sony Michel, who has been exceptional in the passing game thus far, is out for a while with a shoulder injury.

While defenses have taken away the deep ball at times this season, Mason said there have been plenty of miscues, especially in the Tennessee game, by the offense. The biggest has come in the form of miscommunication between Mason and his receivers, he said. There were a few times last Saturday where receivers ran the wrong routes or didn’t hit their marks on routes. Some guys didn’t even turn around at the right time for certain passes.

Because of that, there’s been some trust lost between Mason and his receivers, especially when it comes to deeper throws. And while Mason admitted he’s been off on a few passes this season, the playbook has been limited because timing with this group of receivers hasn’t been as crisp as it needs to be.

“The more confident we get in each other, the more confidence I get in my guys, the more confidence we give [offensive coordinator] Coach [Mike] Bobo to call plays down the field, the better we’ll get,” Mason said. “That’s where it starts is execution, and right now we’re not executing so it’s hard for everybody to have full confidence in each other when you’re not executing it.”

Head coach Mark Richt said last Saturday that he hopes Mitchell and Scott-Wesley will return to practice this week. He also hopes to get senior Jonathon Rumph (hamstring) back soon, too. So help is coming, which should help open things up and should get some rhythm back in this passing game.

However, with the health of Mitchell and Rumph not a guarantee going forward, Mason and his receivers have to jell better. Mason said the passing game starts with him, and he hasn’t shied away from some of his shortcomings this season, but he also understands that the guys who need to catch the ball have to help out more, too.

“When you’re in there, you gotta execute,” he said. “There’s really no excuse. It’s my job to trust it, and if I don’t trust it then it’s not gonna work. That trust starts with you gotta execute it and you gotta make the plays. The more plays you make, the more trust Coach Bobo will have in throwing the ball down the field … and the more I’ll have trust in my guys.”

UGA still hasn't recovered from UT win

September, 26, 2014
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Aaron Murray fans might remember last season's Tennessee game as one of the great individual performances of the ex-Georgia quarterback's career

Operating short-handed because of roster losses, Murray set up a fourth-quarter touchdown with a career-long 57-yard run, forced overtime with a touchdown pass to Rantavious Wooten with five seconds left in regulation and helped the Bulldogs survive the Volunteers' upset bid 34-31 in overtime.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall
AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Jason GetzGeorgia running back Keith Marshall has not yet regained the form he showed prior to getting injured in last season's Tennessee game.
Mark Richt likely remembers the win in a far less sunny fashion. It was the point when a team that had designs on contending for conference and national titles started to crumble.

Sure, the victory was exciting and Murray played great. Yes, it kept Richt's Bulldogs in the Top 10 for one more Saturday after an exciting first few weeks of the season. But because of the series of injuries the Bulldogs suffered that day -- namely the season-ending knee injuries to running back Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley -- a high-scoring offense that had already lost receiver Malcolm Mitchell for the season and superstar tailback Todd Gurley for a month started to sputter.

Following the Tennessee win, the Bulldogs' record dating back to the start of the 2011 season was 26-7, and it seemed like they still stood a good chance of claiming their third straight SEC East title. Since that day in Knoxville, the Bulldogs are 6-5 and one could easily argue Mike Bobo's offense still hasn't completely recovered.

Entering this week's rematch with Tennessee, Scott-Wesley still hasn't appeared in a game yet in 2014, although Richt hinted he might make his debut next week against Vanderbilt. Same with Mitchell, who has missed 14 games since tearing his ACL in the first quarter of the Bulldogs' 2013 opener against Clemson.

But perhaps the most unfortunate injury from the Tennessee game was the one to Marshall.

He had existed in Gurley's shadow since the 2012 season started, but last season's Tennessee game looked like his chance to finally thrive as the Bulldogs' top back. He had enjoyed the best game of his career -- 164 rushing yards, including touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards -- the season before against the Vols and had performed well against LSU a week earlier (96 yards on 20 carries) after Gurley went down with an ankle injury.

But when the former five-star recruit crumpled to the ground after taking a shot to the knee from Cam Sutton while reaching to catch a first-quarter pass, he suffered an injury that to this point has prevented him from regaining the form that made him a perfect complement to Gurley during their freshman season.

Marshall has played sparingly this season, rushing 12 times for 24 yards before suffering another knee injury last week against Troy that will sideline him again for the time being. Freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb have emerged as stars-in-waiting behind Gurley, while Marshall has become an overlooked figure in Georgia's backfield.

Perhaps Marshall will return to the lineup and can still make an impact this season. Maybe Scott-Wesley will come back and build off the breakthrough performances he strung together last season prior to the Tennessee game. Same with Mitchell, whom many believed was on the verge of a huge 2013 season before suffering a freak injury while celebrating a Gurley touchdown against Clemson.

They won't be in the lineup against a much-improved Vols team this Saturday, though, and that's certainly not a good thing for Georgia. The Bulldogs still have Gurley, and their coaching staff has had more than enough practice turning lemons into lemonade since their visit to Neyland Stadium a year ago, so they're hardly the limping club that hit the skids after last season's overtime victory.

The Bulldogs have still fielded a serviceable -- and at times, truly impressive -- offense since then, despite all the injury absences. Eventually, Bobo might have all his weapons at his disposal once again. And SEC East defenses should take cover if that happens.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Aaron Murray couldn’t do it.

Neither could Matthew Stafford.

Even David Greene wasn’t able to pull it off.

There is just something about Williams-Brice Stadium. Georgia has found a way to win its fair share of games there, but it’s never been by lighting up the scoreboard. D.J. Shockley, Quincy Carter and every Bulldogs quarterback since Eric Zeier can attest to that.

It was Zeier, way back on Sept. 3, 1994, who became the last Georgia QB to score more than 20 points in Columbia, South Carolina, winning a nail-bitter, 24-21.

“To think that the last nine times, the most amount of points was 20 — that shocked me when I read that stat,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt on Tuesday. “I knew what it had been for us when I’ve been at Georgia, but I didn’t realize it went back that far.”

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsHutson Mason and the Bulldogs will need to be more balanced on offense to have success on Saturday.
Not many people did. But just about everyone can recall the last two matchups in South Carolina. Georgia lost both games, scoring one total touchdown and 13 points.

That was with Murray at quarterback. If the current SEC record-holder for passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense couldn’t manage, what makes anyone believe Hutson Mason will?

If Georgia hopes to stay undefeated and in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt, Mason, a redshirt senior in his first year starting at quarterback, will have to come up big on Saturday and break the 20-year trend of 21 points or less in Columbia. While South Carolina may be reeling, its offense hasn’t been the problem as it’s averaged 437 yards and 30.5 points per game.

Mason and the Bulldogs will have to keep up -- and not rely exclusively on the running game.

A steady diet of Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb beat down Clemson in Georgia’s impressive season-opening win in Athens two weeks ago. But the offense was predictably lopsided as Mason threw for only 131 yards and no touchdowns.

South Carolina's stack-the-box, dare-you-to-pass defense isn’t likely to be so susceptible. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has struggled the first two weeks of the season, but Richt called him an “outstanding coach” who has had “lights-out defensive teams over the years.”

Richt he expects a “bloody” game in Columbia. Both teams have “outstanding” running backs and “can pound” the football, he said.

“Everybody in the world knows we’re going to run the ball, and everyone knows South Carolina likes to run the ball,” said Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera.

But while Richt is looking for “a fistfight” and Herrera is eager for a battle in the trenches, there has to be some balance, and Mason and the Georgia receivers must be the ones to provide it.

Mason said he can sleep easier knowing Jadeveon Clowney won’t be on the Gamecocks' sideline, but he might struggle after being told of the 20-year streak of offensive futility on Tuesday.

“I probably could have gone without knowing that," he said.

More realistically, though, it doesn’t mean much to him.

“The past couple of years I’ve been here I can recall what those games were like,” he said, “... but I’m not going through the film library looking at the 1997 Georgia vs. Clemson game."

Mason does expect some stress on Saturday, however. The noise will play a big factor, he said, as will South Carolina’s expected defensive tendencies.

“You can’t be naive,” he said. “Teams are definitely going to understand that Todd is our biggest weapon.”

“When we get those one-on-one opportunities against South Carolina, we have to be able to take advantage of them,” he added. “If we don’t, we may still be able to find a way to win. But I don’t really like our chances if we can’t throw the ball effectively.”

It’s going to be tough sledding, especially with Richt announcing that wide receivers Justin Scott-Wesley, Jonathon Rumph and Malcolm Mitchell aren’t expected to play.

Despite that, Chris Conley believes his fellow (healthy) receivers will perform. He said to count on Isaiah McKenzie, Kenny Towns and Blake Tibbs stepping up.

With South Carolina playing primarily a one-high safety scheme, he said, “You force people to throw the ball.”

“That’s just a basic fact of football,” he explained. “... Scheme wise, there are going to be those opportunities to throw the ball, but it’s going to come down to us executing the game plan and being on the right page.”

Even with so much of the focus directed on stopping Georgia's running game, don’t look for coaches to air it out.

“I just want us to execute what we call,” Richt said. “We’ve got a long track record of throwing the ball extremely well around here, but I know our number one goal is to win and do whatever it takes to win.”

“That particular trend [of not throwing a lot] wouldn’t bother me if we didn’t have to,” he continued. “And I’ll say this: Hutson’s main goal is to win. He doesn’t need to put any pressure on himself other than doing the things that will help Georgia win.”

Load the box, center David Andrews said. He dares anyone to do it.

“We still need to be able to run the ball even if they do load the box,” he said. “If not, that opens up our passing game. It’s just a win-win all the way around.”

Georgia Bulldogs season preview

August, 8, 2014
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Georgia Bulldogs

2013 record: 8-5 (5-3 SEC). Lost 24-19 to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

Key losses: QB Aaron Murray, TE Arthur Lynch, DL Garrison Smith, S Josh Harvey-Clemons, S Tray Matthews, CB Shaq Wiggins, OT Kenarious Gates, OG Chris Burnette, OG Dallas Lee, DL Jonathan Taylor.

Key returnees: RB Todd Gurley, LB Ramik Wilson, LB Amarlo Herrera, OLB Leonard Floyd, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OT John Theus, CB Damian Swann, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Chris Conley, DE Ray Drew, C David Andrews, PK Marshall Morgan, WR Justin Scott-Wesley.

Instant impact newcomers: OLB Lorenzo Carter, RB Sony Michel, RB Nick Chubb, CB Malkom Parrish, DT Lamont Gaillard, DB Shattle Fenteng, TE Jeb Blazevich.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Floyd
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIAfter leading the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks as a freshman last season, big things are expected of Leonard Floyd in 2014.
Breakout player: Floyd. The lanky outside linebacker led Georgia with 6.5 sacks in 2013 and added 9.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. He’ll benefit from having a full year in Georgia’s conditioning program and could become a star in his second season.

Most important game: Sept. 13 at South Carolina. Two of the favorites in the SEC East will meet early in the season in Columbia, where the Gamecocks haven’t lost since 2011. They’ve beaten Georgia in their last two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium, including a 35-7 thrashing in 2012. The margin for error is typically narrow within the division, so the winner of this one will be the early team in the East driver’s seat.

Biggest question mark: The secondary is easily Georgia’s biggest area of concern. The Bulldogs’ pass defense was spotty at best in 2013, and the offseason departures of three regulars has left plenty of personnel questions. Coach Mark Richt kicked two starting safeties -- Harvey-Clemons and Matthews -- off the team, and cornerback Wiggins transferred to Louisville, so there is plenty of playing time available. Swann’s presence is big at cornerback, and converted running back J.J. Green was impressive in the spring, but junior college transfer Fenteng and Parrish will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in August.

Upset special: Oct. 11 at Missouri. This could be a tricky game that might not get as much attention as it deserves with matchups against Clemson, South Carolina, Florida and Auburn also on Georgia’s schedule. The defending SEC East champs lost a ton of firepower, so Mizzou seems likely to take a step backward. But it’s a long road trip that kicks off a stretch of more than a month when the Bulldogs won’t play at home once -- and it could easily become a loss if Georgia doesn’t have its act together.

Key stat: 36.7. The average score of a Georgia game was 36.7 to 29.0 in 2013. Even if what was an inexperienced defense improves this fall, the Bulldogs will still likely rely on their star-studded offense. They might need to keep scoring at that prolific clip, which is somewhat uncertain with three longtime starting offensive linemen to replace, to allow time for the defense and their new set of coaches to develop some continuity.

Team’s top Twitter follows: The Bulldogs have some good choices here. Seeing as how he’s never started a game, it might seem surprising that senior offensive lineman Watts Dantzler (@WattsDantzler) has 12,000 Twitter followers. But he’s a natural-born entertainer who has a nationwide following that grew substantially when he live tweeted a harrowing spring break trip back to Athens on a bus. Another good pick is tight ends coach John Lilly (@JohnLillyUGA), who is a much more creative on Twitter than the typical coach. Lastly, Conley (@_Flight_31) regularly updates his 27,400 followers on his latest film exploits; he produced and starred in a well-received “Star Wars” tribute film over the summer and has started work on a new movie in recent weeks.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Info: 9.06 wins

Bovada over-under: 9.5 wins

Our take: Georgia was better than an eight-win team last season, but the Bulldogs were absolutely decimated by injuries to key players like Mitchell, Gurley, Scott-Wesley, tailback Keith Marshall and eventually Murray. If new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt can get things straight on his side of the ball, the ceiling is extremely high for this team. The offense has an impressive array of talent surrounding senior quarterback Hutson Mason and should be difficult to contain. If the Bulldogs open with a win against Clemson at Sanford Stadium, this could easily become a 10-2 or 9-3 season where Georgia is once again in the thick of the East race.

Injuries impacted UGA, Nebraska seasons

December, 23, 2013
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This season's similarities are striking for the combatants in this season's TaxSlayer.com 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.

ESPN.com'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.

With Murray out, Mason's time is now

November, 24, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's period of mourning over Aaron Murray's season-ending knee injury can't last long. The Bulldogs face rival Georgia Tech in six days -- and for the first time since 2009, they'll do it with someone other than Murray under center.

Once considered the Bulldogs' quarterback in waiting for 2014 -- after Murray, the SEC's all-time leading passer, departed for the NFL -- Hutson Mason's time is now, and that isn't as much of a cause for concern as one might expect.

“I think the whole team is confident in him,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said after Saturday's 59-17 win against Kentucky. “He's been preparing for four years now for his moment. His moment's just come a little earlier than we thought it might. I know he's ready, and I know everybody believes in him.”

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIHutson Mason has been Aaron Murray's main backup at Georgia. But now he gets his chance in the spotlight.
Mason has been Murray's primary backup since arriving at Georgia in 2010, and he opted to redshirt last season instead of transferring in order to gain a year of class separation between himself and Murray. The idea was to have one final season where he could potentially serve as the starting quarterback.

Now, he's getting an early tryout for the gig, with an opportunity to make his first career start against Georgia Tech and then to lead the offense once again in the Bulldogs' bowl game.

“I'm going to watch the game tomorrow and then start preparing for Tech,” Mason said after completing 13 of 19 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown, plus rushing for another score, against Kentucky. “I don't think anything in my preparation's going to change because I've been preparing like I've been the starter the whole year, and I think that's what's going to help me. And I don't have a lot of game-time experience, but I'm an older guy and I've been here a while and I know my teammates believe in me, and that's what's the most important thing.”

Georgia's offense didn't miss a beat on Saturday after Mason replaced Murray, who injured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee after taking a big hit from Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith in the second quarter on Saturday. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first four drives with Mason under center, and he capped his night with a field-goal drive before giving way to third-string quarterback Faton Bauta late in the blowout win.

The Bulldogs generated 309 yards in 37 plays with Mason in at QB against Kentucky, good for an average of 8.35 yards per play.

“When he's at practice, there's no drop-off when he comes in,” senior offensive guard Chris Burnette said. “He knows exactly what to do, has a great skillset, is a great leader. We know what he's bringing to the table, and he knows what we're bringing to the table so I think we're able to feed off of each other and be able to do well.”

There is a major difference between executing in practice and executing in a game, however, and Mason has only 11 games of experience -- almost all of which came in mop-up duty during blowouts. He didn't have time to over-think his role while replacing Murray on Saturday, but now he will be the center of attention for the first time during the run-up to a game against perhaps Georgia's biggest rival.

He said the number of close games Georgia played this season, with Murray playing the entire time, made him sometimes question the importance of preparing. He's obviously glad he continued to put in the work each week now, though.

“That's the nature of being a backup -- you've always got to be ready when your number's called on, especially with the way we've played this year,” Mason said. “There's many times through the week I'm like, 'Should I even prepare?' Because I've got voices in my head telling me, 'Should I prepare? I might not play. Is this worth it?' And it just goes to show you, always prepare like you're going to play because you never know when it's going to come.”

Murray's setback only exacerbates the Bulldogs' injury woes in a season where they have been especially prevalent. Georgia lost receiver Malcolm Mitchell to an ACL injury on the second series of the season -- he was celebrating a 75-yard Todd Gurley touchdown run when the injury occurred -- and tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley both went down with additional ACL tears during a midseason win against Tennessee.

Offensive weapons Gurley, Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jay Rome have also been knocked out of the lineup for multiple games, but Murray's seems like the most painful after he returned for his senior season only to suffer an injury near the very end. It will prevent him from participating in a postseason all-star game or at the NFL combine.

Georgia, however, must quickly pick up the pieces with Mason at quarterback, much like it did when its starting quarterback left his final home game with a devastating injury.

“I was proud of the way [Mason] played and proud of the way the other guys picked it up when Aaron went down,” Bobo said. “I feel for Aaron on senior night to get hurt with as much as he's invested in the program and everything he's done. But he played great again while he was out there -- just another phenomenal night for him.”

Murray's injury puts damper on home finale

November, 24, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia sent its seniors out the right way with a 59-17 pummeling of Kentucky on Saturday night, but the Bulldogs lost perhaps their most valuable senior of all.

Quarterback Aaron Murray -- who has started every game of his career and on Saturday tied David Greene's school record for most career starts by a non-kicker (52) -- injured his left knee in the second quarter and needed assistance to reach the locker room.

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said he does not expect Murray to play next Saturday against Georgia Tech, but would not rule him out for the Bulldogs' bowl game, pending the results of an MRI on the injured knee.

“It just was hard to have a lot of fun,” Richt said after the game. “Even right now, I'm glad we won and I'm really proud of how we did, but it's kind of a crummy feeling right now when you think about what Aaron is going through.”

Prior to the injury, Saturday's game was shaping up as a glorious going-away party for the senior quarterback in his final game at Sanford Stadium.

He was the centerpiece of an emotional pregame ceremony to honor Georgia's 28 departing seniors, with the home crowd offering a raucous ovation when the SEC's all-time leading passer was the final Bulldog to be introduced. Murray had tossed four touchdown passes (he finished 18-for-23 for 183 yards) and in the first quarter became the first SEC quarterback to pass for 3,000-plus yards in four seasons.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/John BazemoreAaron Murray will have an MRI on his left knee to determine the extent of his injury.
But Kentucky defensive lineman Za'Darius Smith slammed Murray to the ground after a pass to Rhett McGowan deflected off the senior receiver and floated to Wildcats linebacker Khalid Henderson at the Kentucky 2-yard line. Murray immediately motioned to the training staff that he needed assistance, and they walked him directly to the locker room with Murray struggling to put any weight on his left leg.

He left Sanford Stadium during the third quarter to undergo an MRI at Athens' St. Mary's Hospital and did not return.

“You could tell in his body language he was hurt,” backup quarterback Hutson Mason said. “It wasn't the same Murray.”

And it was yet another injury in a fall where the Bulldogs (7-4, 5-3 SEC) already lost tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley for the season, while tailback Todd Gurley and receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett also missed multiple games with an assortment of injuries.

“He did mention that was about how our season has gone as far as injuries and everything,” Richt said of his conversation with Murray at halftime. “It was tough.”

Mason did an admirable job as Murray's replacement -- he finished 13-for-19 for 189 yards and one touchdown, plus a 1-yard scoring plunge -- but Murray's injury put a major damper on what should have been a happy final outing between the hedges for the seniors.

“Seeing Aaron go down, that was tough. That's one of my best friends. He was one of my groomsmen at my wedding, and seeing him go down, I never want him to go down because most of the time it's my fault,” said senior offensive guard Chris Burnette, whose wife, Arielle, was one of Murray's classmates at Tampa (Fla.) Plant High School.

The Bulldogs quickly made it clear that there would be no lingering hangover in the wake of last week's devastating 43-38 loss at Auburn, when the Tigers scored the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds to play. Georgia needed only three plays to score its first touchdown -- on a 9-yard pass from Murray to McGowan -- and led Kentucky 21-0 after its first three possessions.

Murray and Gurley were the stars of the early onslaught, with the pair hooking up for a 16-yard touchdown where Gurley soared into the end zone -- reminding Bulldogs fans of Knowshon Moreno's memorable 2008 touchdown dive against Arizona State -- that put Georgia up 14-0.

By the time Gurley left in the third quarter of the blowout, he had rushed eight times for 77 yards, caught five passes for 90 yards and scored two touchdowns.

Not to be miss out on the fun, Georgia's defense posted perhaps its finest outing of the season. A week after surrendering 566 yards to Auburn's potent offense, the Bulldogs held Kentucky (2-9, 0-7) to 211 yards -- 69 of which came on Dyshawn Mobley's first-quarter touchdown run, with 30 more coming on a Maxwell Smith touchdown pass to Javess Blue against the defensive reserves late in the fourth quarter.

“We got some turnovers, too, which was good to see,” said Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, whose defense recovered three of Kentucky's six fumbles, with those turnovers leading to 21 Bulldogs points. “Kentucky has not turned the ball over a lot.”

Richt credited the seniors for holding the team together through the spate of injuries and a disappointing season that started with a top-five ranking and BCS title aspirations.

“Even though the season had certain expectations and certain hopes got dashed along the way, the leadership was great,” Richt said. “The unity of our team was rock solid because of those guys. And I've said it a couple times, this was a fun team to coach, but I think it was mostly because of the seniors and how they led this year.”

Happy Halloween in the SEC

October, 31, 2013
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It's that special time of year when it's OK to let your inner ghoul come out. It's when that thing that goes bump in the night is standing right behind you, smiling that sinister smile only nightmares can conjure.

Horror movies cover our TV screens, while candy wrappers litter our streets.

It's Nick Saban's birthday! ... Oh, and it's also Halloween.

Regardless of which one you celebrate, cut off the lights, wrap yourself in a blanket and try not to get scared as we look at the most bone-chilling people in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe scariest sight in the SEC is Nick Saban leading the Alabama Crimson Tide onto the field.
Jason Voorhees: Alabama just won't go away. Even after losing at least one game in November the past two years, the Crimson Tide have won consecutive BCS national championships. Since 2010, Saban is 33-2 and is riding a 12-game winning streak. A trip to College Station to face Texas A&M didn't get in his way, and at this rate, nothing might keep him from steamrolling into his third straight BCS title game.

Michael Myers: One of the most feared horror movie villains, Myers terrorized the citizens of Haddonfield, Ill., with his frighteningly slow stalk and superhuman strength. Meet Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who torments quarterbacks with more speed and the reputation of being one of the country's scariest players. He has registered a nation-leading 16 tackles for loss and is tied for first with 10 sacks. He has totaled three sacks in a game three times this year.

Freddy Krueger: This season, sleeping on Auburn has proved costly. The Tigers started the season unranked and under new management with Gus Malzahn, but are 7-1 and ranked No. 11 in the BCS standings. The biggest Krueger-esque attack occurred in College Station, when the Tigers upset then-No. 7 Texas A&M 45-41. Two weeks before, Auburn upset No. 24 Ole Miss at home. Could Auburn do the same against Alabama later this month?

The Great Pumpkin: Like Linus waiting in that pumpkin patch on Halloween for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, we've waited for Jadeveon Clowney to return to his old form. Each week, we've been disappointed as Clowney, who entered the season with 21 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in his career, has just two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Teams have schemed him differently and he has dealt with injuries, but he's just not the same player who had garnered so much attention. At least he has the awesome Predator look going!

The Walking Dead: If anyone looks like a stumbling herd of undead walkers, it's Florida and Georgia. These programs have been ravaged by injuries. Florida has dealt with eight season-ending injuries, including to starters Jeff Driskel and Dominique Easley. Nicks and dings have piled up for Florida, too, as just 13 healthy defensive players dressed for the Mizzou game two weeks ago. Georgia watched as running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Nagging injuries have sprinkled around, and heading into Saturday's game with Florida, receiver Chris Conley (ankle) is doubtful and safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) is questionable.

House of horrors: Opponents might wander into South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium for a fun football game, but few leave with a win. The Gamecocks have an SEC-leading 14-game winning streak at home.

Trick: Under Kevin Sumlin, all of Texas A&M's losses (four) have come at home. This year, the Aggies fell to Alabama and Auburn at Kyle Field by a combined 11 points. Not exactly the most intimidating home-field advantage.

The Joker: Arkham Asylum's most heinous inmate and Batman's arch nemesis, the Joker has the ability to manipulate his foes and wreak utter chaos. Kind of like how Johnny Manziel plays. We thought he wouldn't be focused enough this season, so he has churned out 3,091 yards of offense and 28 touchdowns. Defenders think he's going one way, only for him to go the other. Manziel might have dressed up as Scooby Doo last year, but he's as evil as the Joker on the field.

Thriller: The best game of the year has to be Georgia's 44-41 win over LSU. We saw three lead changes, four ties, 943 yards of offense and 85 points. Aaron Murray's touchdown pass to Scott-Wesley with 1:47 remaining proved to be the difference after LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw four straight incomplete passes on LSU's final drive.

Scary: Texas A&M's defense has been the SEC's most terrifying defense to watch. The Aggies rank 111th nationally in total defense, allowing 473.8 yards per game. They're 13th in the SEC in scoring defense (32.6), last in rushing (210.1), 12th in passing (263.6) and are giving up 6.4 yards per play. A&M has allowed fewer than 400 yards just twice this year.

Best costume: Will Muschamp.


ATHENS, Ga. -- In some ways, Arthur Lynch believes that Aaron Murray fits the quarterback stereotype perfectly. In others, Georgia's senior tight end says that Murray could not be further from what one might expect from a record-setting, four-year starter at one of the nation's most prominent football programs.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray's career at Georgia is one of the best in SEC history.
“He wants to be the leader, kind of the guy that needs to be looked upon for everything. Sometimes I think he applies too much pressure on himself with that,” said Lynch, Murray's longtime friend and roommate. “But in terms of like walking around campus and brushing people off, I kind of wish he had more of that. Sometimes it gets so annoying in public, no matter where it is. It could be the dining hall, it could be in Atlanta, it could be at Shane's Rib Shack, he's going to stop and give pictures where some guys might brush people off.

“So no, he's never given that vibe, which is a testament to him because he could easily be that guy and people would probably like him more for it because it's, 'Ah, that's what he's supposed to act like.' But the fact that he doesn't fit that mold is probably what people get weirded out about. They're probably like, 'There's got to be something behind the curtain.'”

Nope. Murray's generally affable demeanor is no facade -- which might be part of his perception problem nationally and even within his own conference.

He's not a flashy player, throwing up “Get Money” hand signals after a touchdown like Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He hasn't won BCS titles like Alabama's AJ McCarron. Yet when the SEC's coaches released their preseason all-conference list, some college football observers were surprised to see Murray as the first-team quarterback.

Maybe that was a career achievement award from the league's coaches, as Murray's team-first attitude and legendary work ethic have helped him become the most prolific passer in the league's history.

“Everything he's done, he's earned it. It wasn't just off God-given talent or this crazy arm or anything like that. It's that he's worked for it, he's earned it,” said receiver Rhett McGowan, Murray's fellow fifth-year senior.

Murray has already broken ex-Bulldog David Greene's SEC record for career passing yards (Murray now has 12,029) and surpassed former Florida great Tim Tebow's career mark for total offense (Murray's at 12,327 yards) with a completion to Lynch in the Bulldogs' last game against Vanderbilt.

Entering Saturday's game against Florida, Murray is two touchdown passes behind ex-Gator Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114 touchdown passes, and he's still on pace to threaten ex-Gator Chris Leak's league record of 895 completions (Murray has 835) and former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen's mark of 1,514 pass attempts (Murray has 1,355).

Not that he has much time to focus on the record book these days. Coming off two straight losses, Murray's Georgia team (4-3, 3-2 SEC) needs a win on Saturday to have any hope in the SEC East race -- and he has been working overtime with an injury-depleted receiving corps in hopes of giving his offense a chance against a stout Florida defense.

“I guess when I'm old and want to brag, I can,” Murray said of the records. “But right now it's all about the team. It's all about getting this win. I guess I can talk about this later in life when I'm done playing and all, when I look back.”

Murray was on a short list of Heisman contenders just a few weeks ago, when Georgia was coming off wins against top-10 teams South Carolina and LSU and still had hopes of claiming a BCS championship berth. That was Murray's stated goal all along in returning for his senior season, and it appeared to be a reasonable possibility before many of his most valuable skill players fell victim to long-term or season-ending injuries.

The Bulldogs' once-explosive offense struggled without Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in the backfield and Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett at receiver, and the losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt in those players' absence sunk the Bulldogs' BCS hopes. But Murray said he doesn't regret his decision to put off his NFL dreams for one more season.

“I'm still playing football. I'm still out there with my buddies having fun, competing,” Murray said. “Obviously I came back to try to give ourselves a chance to win a championship, but it didn't happen. So what? Let's move on. Let's continue working hard and having fun, and that's what I'm doing.”

That typifies the attitude Murray has displayed since he arrived at Georgia in 2009, with his relentless behind-the-scenes work propelling him through one of the most statistically impressive careers in SEC history, even if it might not result in the recognition that goes to quarterbacks on championship teams or those with a flashier highlight reel.

A BCS crown will not complete Murray's legacy at Georgia, but he will leave a significant void nonetheless. To gain some insight, consider an observation that Bulldogs coach Mark Richt made last Friday at the end of the Bulldogs' open week, when most coaches and players had already started making the most of a rare off weekend.

“It was maybe close to noontime, maybe just after noontime, and he and Faton [Bauta, one of Georgia's backup quarterbacks] are out there doing footwork and drill work and throwing the ball,” Richt recalled. “I went over the rail and I said, 'Get out of here. Just relax.' They were like, 'There's no days off, Coach. There's no days off.' [I said], 'All right, if that's what you want.'

“But that's how he is. He's wired that way. Every single day he wants to try to find a way to get better, and he's not feeling sorry for himself or anything like that. I think he's still very happy that he's here with us and wants to finish strong.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- The moment Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett's 24-yard overtime field goal attempt dinged off the right upright at Faurot Field on Saturday night, three fan bases exploded.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMark Richt and his Bulldogs look to stay in the SEC East race with a win over rival Florida.
Clearly, one was South Carolina, which had just pulled off the 27-24, come-from-behind win, but at the exact same moment, Florida and Georgia fans, players and coaches celebrated at once, as they climbed right back into the SEC Eastern Division race.

"I felt like we had just won a game," said Georgia wide receiver Rhett McGowan, sporting the same boyish smile he likely had late Saturday night.

While both programs, which face each other in their annual Outdoor Party in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, are unranked with identical 4-3 (3-2 SEC) records, they scored major victories without playing a down. Mizzou's loss resurrected the Dawgs and Gators, even though they're both a game back of the Tigers, who own head-to-head tiebreakers over both.

Still, if both teams win out and see a couple more Mizzou losses, the winner of Saturday's game could sneak into Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

"It gave us a little hope," Florida defensive back Cody Riggs said. "I went crazy. I was jumping around the house. I actually called [safety] Jaylen [Watkins], I was like ‘We’re back in it! We’re back!’ We’ve still got a chance."

The chances are slim, but they are there. It doesn't help either that both will literally limp into EverBank Field, as injuries have ravaged the two this season.

Florida is dealing with eight season-ending injuries (four starters), including quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley, while Georgia has watched nearly every capable skill player go down. Running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin-Scott Wesley are all out for the year with ACL injuries, while receiver Chris Conley (ankle) is doubtful for Saturday.

"I don't think there's any other team besides the [New England] Patriots that's more beat up than us and Florida," Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said.

Even coach Mark Richt had to chuckle at the sight of his depth chart Tuesday. Standing in front of a throng of media members, Richt released a sarcastic snicker when he looked at the available receivers on this week's depth chart.

"Kenny Towns will be available to play," Richt said.

"Also, [Michael] Erdman -- Erdman is ready.”

Not exactly Mitchell or Conley.

The good news is that receiver Michael Bennett (knee) and running back Todd Gurley (ankle) should be available on Saturday, but safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons are still in limbo.

Then there's Florida.

Linebacker Ronald Powell (ankle) is questionable, while linebacker Darrin Kitchens (shoulder) and tight end Colin Thompson (foot) are doubtful. Florida will get defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (head) back, and quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) should be fine.

Outside of injuries, on-field play has hampered those two as well. Florida's offense has stalled in each of its three losses, while Georgia's young, inexperienced defense has had plenty of growing pains.

Because of that, both will face each other on a two-game losing streak for the first time since 1926 and unranked for the second time since 1979.

For the Gators, the past two games have been an offensive nightmare. After averaging 393.4 yards per game and 5.6 yards per play during the first five games, Florida has averaged 195.5 yards per game and 3.1 yards per play while converting just 28.1 percent of its third downs since.

Georgia's defense ranks 58th nationally (390.1 yards per game) and is giving up 5.5 yards per play. It has registered just seven turnovers this season, tied for last in the SEC. To put that into perspective, former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones forced three fumbles and recovered two in his two games against Florida.

This game has lost some of its luster nationally, and neither will be playing for a national championship this season, but that doesn't mean it isn't important. A war of attrition will replace the party in Jacksonville, but that won't stop each side from seething at the sight of the other's color combination.

"If you can’t get excited about playing Florida in that venue, you shouldn’t be a Bulldog. Period," Richt said. "We all understand that. I think everybody is going to get their blood pumping for that.

"Both of us are just fighting like mad to stay in the race. With another loss, I don’t know if mathematically or not it knocks us out, but it’d be pretty tough.”

Added Murphy: "It’s kind of like a one-game playoff. If you lose, your season is kind of done or down in the dumps. Both teams are going to come out hungry and ready to go."

Lynch called the Florida-Georgia rivalry the midseason "gauntlet of college football." This has major East implications and it's a bitter rivalry. They both celebrated Saturday's victory, but when they see each other, true disdain will emerge, which should be motivation enough.

"It's not a one-way street, they legitimately hate us too," Lynch said. "It's nothing like I've ever seen before.

"I'll raise my kids to hate Florida just as anyone else. Even if they go play football at Brown, they'll still root for Georgia over Florida. That's just how it is."

Injury impact: SEC

October, 24, 2013
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The injury bug has been sucking the life out of teams in the SEC this season. The SEC East has been hit especially hard this season, and here are the three teams in the league that have been affected the most:

1. Florida: Not exactly what the Gators want to be ranked first in, but Florida runs away with this one. The 4-3 Gators lost starting right tackle Chaz Green (shoulder) and wide receiver Andre Debose (knee) for the season during fall camp and have seen six more season-ending injuries since, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. They dressed only 13 healthy defenders in the loss to Missouri. Quarterback Tyler Murphy is still dealing with a lingering shoulder injury.

2. Georgia: The 4-3 Bulldogs lost top receiver Malcolm Mitchell for the year to a freak ACL injury in the season opener and then lost running back Keith Marshall and Justin-Scott Wesley to ACL injuries against Tennessee. Starting running back Todd Gurley (ankle) has been out since the LSU game (Sept. 28) and receiver Michael Bennett hasn't played since the Tennessee game (Oct. 5) due to a knee injury. Receiver Chris Conley (ankle) and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) and Tray Matthews are questionable for next week's Florida game.

3. Arkansas: The Razorbacks, who have lost five straight, felt the injury bug before the season when top receiver Demetrius Wilson was lost for the year with a preseason ACL injury while linebacker Otha Peters has played in only five games after breaking his arm during fall camp. Coach Bret Bielema estimated that 10-12 players went down with injuries during fall camp. Quarterback Brandon Allen suffered a shoulder injury early this season and starting defensive tackle Robert Thomas is out for the season with a broken leg.

Mistakes kill chance for more UGA magic

October, 12, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Aaron Murray finally ran out of the late-game magic that served No. 7 Georgia so well up until Saturday's 41-26 loss to No. 25 Missouri, as the Bulldogs quarterback's interceptions on his final two drives prevented Georgia from overcoming a big early deficit.

“Four turnovers. They had none, we had four, and you can't win ballgames when you turn the ball over four times,” said Murray, who was 25-for-45 for 290 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed two picks and had a fumble returned for a touchdown that put Mizzou up 28-10 in the second quarter. “I don't care who you're playing. It's just a recipe for disaster.”

Murray completed late touchdown passes that paved the way for Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) to beat South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee in what has been the nation's most difficult schedule to this point. But two crucial turnovers in the first half -- Murray's lost fumble for a touchdown and freshman Brendan Douglas' fumble at the Missouri 6 -- allowed the Tigers to build the 18-point halftime lead over a Georgia team that was without many of its top offensive weapons.

Perhaps things might have been different if Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were in Georgia's backfield or if Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett or Justin Scott-Wesley was in at receiver. But the Bulldogs still outgained Missouri's explosive offense 454 yards to 375 even without those players and had trimmed the Tigers' lead to 28-26 after a furious third-quarter rally.

If healthy, Gurley -- who Georgia coach Mark Richt said has “a realistic shot” of playing next Saturday against Vanderbilt -- would have been the likely ball carrier on the play in which Douglas fumbled. But the other three turnovers were the responsibility of veteran regulars. The interceptions were both bad reads by Murray. His sack came after senior tight end Arthur Lynch allowed Shane Ray to beat his block and knock the ball away from Murray with a blindside hit before Michael Sam picked up the loose ball and ran in for the score.

[+] EnlargeShane Ray
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia quarterback Aaron Murray is sacked and fumbles after being hit by Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray during the second quarter.
“It's completely my fault," Lynch said. "You can't expect Aaron to hold that ball. It's a blindside [hit]. That's my fault 100 percent, and I feel bad I let my team down in that sense. But even then, we've got to be able to overcome mistakes, and I thought we did for the most part. Just at the end of the game, we ran out of a little bit of magic, and that's the unfortunate situation.”

The difference in the outcome was that Georgia's defense couldn't carry over its momentum into the fourth quarter -- even after Missouri quarterback James Franklin left the game with a shoulder injury -- and the Bulldogs committed two more turnovers in the final period, ending any hope of another dramatic Georgia victory.

“I'm not going to sit here and start talking about if we'd had this or that,” Richt said. “That's football. Everybody has injuries. We had injuries; other teams do too. Their quarterback went out when the game was a two-point game. They found a way to win.”

And the Tigers did it with backup quarterback Maty Mauk coming on to lead a pair of late touchdown drives that secured the victory. Up 28-26 early in the fourth quarter, Missouri (6-0, 2-0) was facing a third-and-6 at its 45-yard line when Franklin left the game.

Georgia's defense had an opportunity to halt the Tigers' drive but allowed Mauk to slip away with a 6-yard scramble for a huge first down at midfield. Two plays later, Tigers receiver Bud Sasser hit L'Damian Washington -- who made a leaping catch over freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins -- with a 40-yard touchdown off a double pass.

“You had a chance on third down to get [Mauk] and they run him and we don't finish him off on the tackle and the guy gets it, and the next play is an explosive play,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.

That series ruined what had been an enormous turnaround by Grantham's defense in the second half. The Bulldogs surrendered touchdowns on three straight Tigers possessions before halftime, and it looked like Missouri might win a blowout when it led 28-10 at halftime. But Georgia allowed just 35 yards in the third quarter and forced Missouri to punt all three times it had the ball in the period.

Murray and the offense used those opportunities to trim the lead to 28-26 after he hit Chris Conley with a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. Even when Conley dropped the two-point pass that would have tied the score, the Bulldogs had seemingly gained the upper hand before allowing Missouri to convert the two big third downs that kept alive the ensuing touchdown drive that ended with Washington's touchdown grab.

"One negative play here or there that's an explosive play can eliminate a lot of good plays," Grantham said.

With their résumé already full of last-minute heroics, the Bulldogs believed they were still in it even when Mizzou pushed its lead back to eight. They were still down eight when the defense forced a punt, giving the ball to Murray and the offense with 4:25 left.

Only Murray didn't deliver this time. Randy Ponder intercepted a first-down pass and returned it to the Georgia 33, setting up another short touchdown drive that put the Tigers up 41-26.

“We're thinking we're in position to win the game, we're going to drive the field, score, score the two, overtime, who knows,” Richt said. “Yeah, we're absolutely thinking, 'Here we go again. We've got a chance to do it.' And to their credit, they made a play.”

They threw open the SEC East race in the process.

Adapting nothing new for Murray, Dawgs

October, 11, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Say this much for Aaron Murray, he has had to learn how to adapt to personnel changes on the fly throughout his college career.

Since taking over as Georgia's quarterback in 2010, there has been a seemingly endless parade of skill players in and out of the Bulldogs' offensive lineup -- from A.J. Green's four-game absence to open Murray's freshman season, to regular tailback shuffling in 2011, to debilitating injuries at receiver last season, to considerable upheaval over the last two weeks of this season.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray and Georgia have adapted to lineup changes in the past and they'll have to do it again if the No. 7 Dawgs hope to beat No. 25 Missouri.
“He's used to it, then,” Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo deadpanned.

And he needs to be.

In Saturday's noon ET game against No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC) Murray must deal with his biggest personnel challenge to date. With Georgia already without Malcolm Mitchell, who tore his ACL in the opener against Clemson, the Bulldogs lost two more key wideouts, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett, last week against Tennessee. Tailback Keith Marshall also went down with a season-ending knee injury last Saturday, joining fellow star tailback Todd Gurley on the sidelines as the Bulldogs' high-scoring offense started to sputter without so many key pieces.

“I would say it affected not only the offense, but the team,” fullback Quayvon Hicks said. “It was players that are not only playmakers on the field, but great teammates. Losing them and knowing that they're not going to be out there, it's something that you've got to just suck it up and keep going.”

Murray and No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0) barely salvaged the game, forcing overtime with a last-minute touchdown and winning 34-31 with a field goal in the extra session. The lone constant in Georgia's lineup over the last three-plus seasons, Murray's experience adjusting to the personnel around him might have been the difference in the outcome.

“You never really can truly practice everything that might happen in a game,” Bobo said. “So I think it's been a lot of experience for Aaron, obviously, to have to go through that and the game plan altered in the middle of a game. And then obviously myself with calling plays. You've just got to adjust. That's football, and I think any time you've got experience to draw back from instead of maybe something that you practiced, it's always beneficial.”

Injuries will force the Bulldogs to do some major adjusting over at least the next couple of weeks. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Gurley remains doubtful to play against Missouri and Bennett is probably out until at least the Nov. 2 game against Florida.

That leaves Bulldogs with little to no experience suddenly in the mix for playing time. Richt has mentioned walk-ons Kenny Towns and Michael Erdman as possible fill-ins at receiver, along with redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs, who has yet to appear in a game.

The running game could once again be in the hands of a group of true freshmen if Gurley is unable to go. It might even mean that A.J. Turman -- a clear redshirt candidate before Marshall's injury made that outcome less of a certainty -- joins fellow freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas in the backfield.

“[Turman] seems to be excited about getting reps with the ones or twos or whatever reps that he's getting right now,” Richt said. “He doesn't look like a guy who's bummed out about an opportunity, a possible opportunity. He seems to be a guy who's kind of anxious for it, so that helps.”

Georgia's running game could be a key factor in Saturday's game. The Bulldogs' still-developing defense will have its hands full with a Missouri offense that is one of only five in the country averaging at least 255 yards on the ground and 285 through the air. The UGA backs' ability to extend drives and keep the defense on the sideline will almost certainly be of major importance, and last year's game against the Tigers was not especially encouraging in that department.

Missouri actually outgained Georgia 371 yards to 355 last year and limited the Bulldogs' running game to just 113 yards -- 44 of which came on a single Gurley run. Georgia needs a more productive performance from Green, Douglas and the other backs if Gurley isn't there to power the Bulldogs' running game.

Otherwise, Georgia will lean more heavily on the injury-depleted receiving corps led by Chris Conley -- who would have redshirted in 2011 if not for injuries that led to his debut in the fourth game of that season.

In other words, Murray is far from the only offensive player on the roster who had to adapt on the fly because of personnel changes.

“It's definitely caused us to be mature,” Conley said. “And for guys to learn how to play in that situation, it's something that you're not comfortable doing naturally. Over the last couple of years, we've had multiple guys who had to become comfortable doing that -- stepping up, learning things on the fly, going in on a Saturday like they've been doing it all along.”

Georgia needs that trend to continue Saturday with some of the new faces in the lineup and old faces who will attempt new things. If they can handle this adjustment as capably as they have the others over the last couple of seasons, the Bulldogs still might be able to ride out their recent rash of debilitating injuries.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesJames Franklin and Missouri can prove they're legit SEC contenders with a win at Georgia on Saturday.
2. Health concerns at UGA: The Bulldogs survived a scare in Knoxville last weekend, but they didn’t come out unscathed. They lost both running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending injuries while fellow wide receiver Michael Bennett will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury. Georgia will have to bounce back quickly with No. 25 Missouri coming to town on Saturday.

3. Mizzou a legitimate contender? It’s safe to say nobody had Missouri as one of the two unbeaten teams in the SEC heading into Week 7. But after an impressive road win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers are 5-0 and finally starting to gain some respect around the league. The next three weeks will be telling, though, as they play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

4. LSU’s WRs versus Florida’s CBs: It’s a dream matchup for NFL scouts. LSU features what many consider to be the top wide receiver tandem in college football with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy is arguably the top cornerback in the SEC, and playing opposite of him is freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who already has three interceptions. The Gators are also expecting the return of corner Marcus Roberson, another one who could soon be playing on Sundays.

5. Tyler Murphy in Death Valley: Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Murphy has exceeded expectations for the Gators. In three games, he has thrown for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s progressively gotten better. However, the junior signal-caller is in for his toughest assignment yet when Florida travels to LSU this weekend. How will he perform in a hostile atmosphere?

6. The return of Cooper: When will we see the real Amari Cooper, the one who had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for Alabama? The star wide receiver has been slowed by nagging injuries all season, but he expects to play Saturday against Kentucky. Will he be 100 percent? Quarterback AJ McCarron would love to have him back sooner rather than later.

7. Aggies without Ennis: As if Texas A&M’s rush defense wasn’t bad enough, the Aggies lost Kirby Ennis, one of their top interior linemen, for the season with a torn ACL. The injury comes at a bad time for the Aggies, who have to visit Ole Miss this weekend and deal with Rebels running back Jeff Scott, not to mention quarterback Bo Wallace. The staff will turn to freshman Isaiah Golden, who is expected to start alongside Alonzo Williams in the middle.

8. Shootout in Oxford: The SEC has featured its fair share of shootouts early in the college football season, and Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M could be right up there. Both teams feature an up-tempo offense, and neither one likes to waste much time between plays. It could be a long day for both defenses.

9. Big game for Bielema: After a 3-0 start, Arkansas has quickly fallen back to .500 with three consecutive losses. However, first-year coach Brett Bielema has a chance to notch his first signature victory with the Razorbacks this Saturday when they host No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have struggled in recent weeks and could be prime for an upset. It’s likely a must-win scenario for Arkansas if the Hogs want to reach a bowl game.

10. Auburn’s quarterback: Who will start for the Tigers against Western Carolina? Starter Nick Marshall injured his knee last weekend against Ole Miss, and although he’s expected to play, coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t made a ruling one way or the other. If Marshall can’t go, Auburn will either turn to returning starter Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson.

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