SEC: Brendan Douglas

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's win on Nov. 9 against Appalachian State wasn't just one of the last times we'll see this senior-laden version of the Bulldogs offense, it also served as a sneak preview of what lies ahead.

Following Saturday's date with Kentucky -- the final game at Sanford Stadium this season -- the Bulldogs will look entirely different on offense the next time they take the field before a home crowd. And many of the players who will take over for the likes of Aaron Murray and his fellow seniors next fall also filled their spots in the fourth quarter of Georgia's 45-6 win over the Mountaineers two weekends ago.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNBackup quarterback Hutson Mason is the frontrunner to start for the Bulldogs in 2014.
“I think the thing you can't get in practice is just that 95,000 [fans] with the atmosphere,” said junior Hutson Mason, Georgia's presumptive starting quarterback next season, who went 11-for-16 for 160 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State. “Really you can get everything [else] in practice. Our coaches, they believe in putting a lot of pressure on you so when it comes to the game, you're used to that feeling. But it's definitely a different atmosphere, different jitters.”

Assuming he wins the quarterback job, Mason will be in a convenient position next season. Georgia loses seven seniors -- Murray, tight end Arthur Lynch, receivers Rantavious Wooten and Rhett McGowan and offensive linemen Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee -- who started on offense against Auburn. And yet the returning skill-position talent surrounding the Bulldogs' next quarterback will be as impressive as that of nearly any offense in the country.

Not only will tailback Todd Gurley return for his junior season, the Bulldogs expect to get receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall back from season-ending knee injuries that crippled the offense at points this fall. That's in addition to other returning weapons like receivers Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jonathon Rumph, tight end Jay Rome and tailbacks J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas and 2014 commitments Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, both of whom rank among ESPN's top eight prospects at running back.

Not a bad situation for a first-time starting quarterback who must replace the most distinguished passer in SEC history.

“We've got a lot of weapons,” redshirt freshman receiver Blake Tibbs said. “And Hutson, he don't care who's open. If they put a dog in a helmet and some equipment out there, if he was open, Hutson would throw it to him. That's one thing about Hutson: He don't care. If you're open, he's going to trust you to make the play and he's going to keep throwing to you.”

Mason certainly proved that in his lone opportunity for significant playing time this season. He hit his first eight pass attempts, connecting with the likes of Rumph, Green, freshman Reggie Davis and walk-on Kenneth Towns on his first drive. Then came further completions to Tibbs, Michael Erdman, Douglas and Rumph again before his first incomplete pass.

The common bond there? Those are mostly the players with whom Mason has regularly worked on the Bulldogs' second-team offense, so chemistry was not an issue when they hit the field.

“That group's kind of been playing together -- besides Rumph -- for a long time and a lot of when our twos go against the ones, they always seem to do well and I think there's a chemistry between those guys kind of like Aaron and Bennett and other guys,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

There's a long time between now and the reserves' time to shine. Heck, there are three games remaining this season.

That means there is plenty of time for the stars in waiting to continue to develop before the Bulldogs open the 2014 season against Clemson on Aug. 30 -- which is exactly the mentality Rumph says he's developing.

“That's what young players have got to understand,” said Rumph, who has six catches in the last three games after missing the first half of the season with a hamstring ailment. “This is your job, so every time you go to school or go to practice, you've got to work to get better. That's all I'm trying to do is keep adding stuff to my game. I've got the feel for the game, I know what I'm capable of. I'm just trying to keep adding stuff to my game.”

Mason echoed those thoughts, pointing out that while even coach Mark Richt has declared Mason as the frontrunner to win the job next season, he still must make good use of this opportunity and not just assume the job is his from the get-go.

He has the opportunity to work with what could be an extremely productive offense next season -- if he stakes a claim on the job.

“I'm not going to be naïve. I hear about that stuff and I read some of it and stuff like that. I've always been the first to say that I believe they're just being nice,” Mason said. “I believe that I've done a good job of performing when my opportunity comes, but I've never stepped on the field in front of 90,000 and like I was saying earlier, that's different from playing in practice.

“So I enjoy the comments and I enjoy the people that have faith in me, but really myself, I just take it day-by-day and say, 'You know what, what have I proven?' because in reality I haven't proven a lot. So when that opportunity comes, hopefully I'll show up.”

UGA looks toward Marshall matchup

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Once his Georgia team took control in the second half of its 45-6 win against Appalachian State on Saturday, coach Mark Richt admittedly had one eye on the score from the Auburn-Tennessee game.

The Bulldogs' next opponent, No. 9 Auburn -- led by former UGA cornerback Nick Marshall, now the Tigers' quarterback -- was thrashing the Volunteers for 444 rushing yards in a 55-23 win. Marshall accounted for 214 of those rushing yards, running for two touchdowns and passing for another.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRay Drew and Georgia's defense held Appalachian State to 32 yards rushing, but will get a stiffer test against Auburn next week.
“When you watch different people throughout the year [during game preparation], you'll see just about everybody's offense by this time of the year,” Richt said. “And they do like to run the ball and they run it well. I'm not shocked.”

That adds more intrigue to the matchup next weekend in Auburn, with the Tigers (9-1, 5-1 SEC) and Georgia (6-3, 4-2) both battling to stay alive in their respective division races -- and Marshall needing a win against his former teammates to keep his team's hopes alive.

“It's a little weird, but I knew whenever he was here that he was a player, and now someone that could have been helping, you're having to try to stop him,” said UGA defensive end Ray Drew, who was a member of Marshall's 2011 signing class at Georgia. “He's having a heck of a year over there, so hopefully he'll have a soft spot seeing that Georgia was the place he signed initially.”

Entering Saturday's games, Auburn led the SEC in rushing at 306.2 yards per game, with Marshall serving as the trigger man for an offense that has regained its bite with Gus Malzahn back on the Plains.

Marshall -- whom Richt dismissed after the 2011 season for breaking team rules -- elected to join Malzahn as a transfer from Garden City Community College.

Just like that, Auburn is once again among the nation's most productive offenses and should provide a major test for a Georgia defense that has made progress since a troubling start to the season.

“It's going to be a challenge, I don't know about fun. As coaches you always like challenges,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “They're believing and they're playing with confidence right now. Their personnel probably fits better what they do now relative to what they did last year. And I think that's a good example of how it's important to get the right people in your system.”

As for Saturday's win, Grantham's defense got off to a slow start, allowing Appalachian State to convert 4 of 6 third down opportunities and control the clock for over 11 minutes. The Mountaineers (2-8) were able to turn those early drives into just two field goals, however, before Grantham's defense awakened.

Georgia limited the Mountaineers to 3-of-12 on third down the rest of the way and 59 total yards (including minus-6 rushing on 18 attempts) in the second half.

Georgia has not allowed an opponent to drive from its own territory to score a touchdown since the second quarter of the Vanderbilt game, a streak that spans 159 minutes of game time.

“The bottom line is once we got through the script, so to speak, of those gadget [plays] and kind of got a feel for how they were running their routes relative to the formations, we pretty much shut them down -- and we didn't give up a touchdown before we did it,” Grantham said. “So anytime you hold a team out of the end zone, I'm going to be happy.”

Georgia led just 14-6 at halftime, with both touchdowns coming on Aaron Murray touchdown passes -- one to Rantavious Wooten, who had a career-high 104 receiving yards, and the other to Michael Bennett.

The second-quarter pass to Bennett gave Murray 115 career touchdown passes, breaking Florida great Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record.

“It definitely is a huge honor to be up there,” said Murray, who passed for 281 yards in his 50th career start. “I'm lucky enough to have played four years here. I think that's the biggest thing: you have to be able to go somewhere and play for a significant amount of time, and I've had that opportunity here to play for now my fourth straight year in a great offense that really allows me to throw the ball around and make plays.”

The Bulldogs poured it on with 31 second-half points -- Todd Gurley, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas all scored on 2-yard runs and Hutson Mason hit Kenneth Towns for a 3-yard touchdown pass -- but it was the defense's play that is the bigger area of interest with Auburn's explosive offense on deck next week.

The glimmer of hope for Georgia's defense is that the Bulldogs might have struggled overall, but Auburn's strength -- running the ball -- is also the area where Grantham's defense has been the most stout. They came in ranked fourth in the SEC, allowing 137.8 rushing yards per game before limiting Appalachian State to 32 yards on 32 attempts.

Now they know their chances of victory likely hinge on containing a player that Grantham initially recruited to help his defense.

“He's big, he's physical. We thought he would be a good player and felt like he could contribute to us being an SEC competitive team defensively,” Grantham said of Marshall. “So we'll obviously get ready for him come Sunday.”

Q&A: Georgia OC Mike Bobo

November, 8, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mike Bobo has dealt with personnel issues in seven seasons as Georgia's offensive play-caller, but never anything like this year.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray and Mike Bobo
Paul Abell/US PresswireQuarterback Aaron Murray and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have had some struggles due to all of Georgia's injuries.
At one point, the Bulldogs had to function with receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall all out for the season, as well as with tailback Todd Gurley and receiver Michael Bennett temporarily sidelined. The result was back-to-back losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, with the Bulldogs' formerly high-scoring offense lacking its usual punch.

Gurley returned in last week's 23-20 win against Florida and produced 187 yards of offense, even if he was clearly not operating at 100 percent. Nonethelesss, he and Bennett are back in the lineup and the Bulldogs' offense is inching closer to becoming as healthy as it can be for this season's stretch run.

Bobo discussed the issues the injuries created and how the Bulldogs might return to their high-scoring ways in this week's Q&A. Here's what he had to say:

Q: Aside from Gurley being back, what was the difference in the offense's improvement from Vanderbilt to Florida?

Mike Bobo: Obviously the off week helped. It gave us a chance to improve with the guys that were out there. We talked those two weeks about trust, and I think you saw a level of trust in the players that were out there, Rhett McGowan] and Brendan Douglas and just playing ball and guys laying it on the line. I'd say that would be one thing.

Q: How does Todd make your job easier?

MB: Well, he's a difference-maker. You get a guy in space and you never have the perfect call, but when you do sometimes and you've got a chance to score, he has the ability to take it to the house. There was that safety [on Gurley's 73-yard touchdown catch against Florida] and some guys might get tackled, but instead of a 25-yard gain, it was however long it was and a touchdown. If it's a 25-yard gain, great play. But then you've got to execute even more times against a very good defense. To have that explosive play and get a touchdown is a big difference.

Q: Has this season been your most challenging since you became a play-caller?

MB: With the injuries, we've had to do a lot of adjustments and change a lot of things that we've done, and it's kind of been week-to-week. The consistency of who's out there kind of affects what you do offensively. To be honest, it's been a fun one, too, because there are a lot of guys who had opportunities to make plays that might not even have been on our field in practice. They'd have been on the scout team. And it's good to see those guys succeed, to be honest.

Q: If you were going to put a finger on something that you might have done different in October, is there something you think might have made a difference?

MB: I would say probably preaching more about believing and trusting in what we got, and let's go play. That would be the No. 1 thing.

Q: What's the most important factor in the offense looking like what we saw early in the year as you guys hit the stretch run?

MB: After that Vanderbilt game, we really talked about improving and getting better and back to the basics. We've really got to work hard at the little things because there's new guys, there's not a lot of continuity and continuing to do that. Sometimes when it's later in the season, you might taper off a little bit. I think where we're at, getting some guys back, we've kind of got to ramp it back up and make sure we're all on the same page and not take anything for granted. Whereas in some years past, it might be, 'OK, these guys have got a lot of cumulative reps.' Well, guys like Bennett and Gurley don't have those cumulative reps from all the time they missed, so we've got to make up that time and make sure everybody's on the same page when the game gets here.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Brendan Douglas has been the hurdler and the hurdlee, so he has firsthand knowledge of the embarrassment that accompanies an opponent leaping directly over you. The thing is, the Georgia tailback still isn't sure what he should have done when teammate Jordan Jenkins hurdled his attempted block during the Bulldogs' second preseason scrimmage.

It wasn't like he dove at Jenkins' ankles on the play. The 5-foot-11 back was nearly standing straight up when he lunged to block Jenkins, and the linebacker simply jumped straight over him.

“You're just like, 'What am I supposed to do?' He just cleared me,” chuckled Douglas, who also hurdled cornerback Shaq Wiggins in the same scrimmage. “I didn't dive on the ground or anything. I just kind of lunged at him a little bit and then he was over me. I didn't know if I should like grab his foot or what. It's kind of like you've just got to let him go at that point.”

[+] EnlargeJordan Jenkins
John Amis/AP PhotoGeorgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins says the art of hurdling a blocker is a matter of desire and swagger.
After clearing Douglas' block, Jenkins landed on his feet just a few steps from quarterback Christian LeMay and so spooked LeMay that he threw a pass directly to linebacker Amarlo Herrera.

“I was shocked I got over him,” Jenkins said. “Actually I stopped and thought, 'Oh God, I got over him,' and I just tried to get LeMay.”

Two months later, teammates still marvel at the athleticism required for Jenkins to pull off such a move.

“That was crazy,” tailback J.J. Green said. “I've never seen something like that where somebody was standing straight up and you just jump right over them.”

Most Georgia fans were first introduced to the in-game hurdle when All-America tailback Knowshon Moreno famously jumped over a Central Michigan defender in a 2008 victory. However, Moreno's legend began to grow two years earlier when as a redshirting freshman on the scout team, he jumped over teammate Donavon Baldwin in practice.

“That was probably most impressive one I've seen,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “He did it down on the turf [practice] fields and I think he kept his feet and went on and scored.”

Hurdle sightings have become much more prevalent over the last few years as the sport's increasingly big and athletic players have demonstrated the ability to avoid blocks or tackle attempts at their ankles by simply jumping over their opponent.

Bulldogs tight end Arthur Lynch has attempted it a number of times, most recently when he successfully cleared Missouri defensive back Randy Ponder's diving tackle attempt along the UGA sideline, bringing some electricity back into Sanford Stadium after the Bulldogs had fallen behind 28-10 in the second quarter.

“I thought it really did bring the crowd back into it [against Missouri] and also just kind of gets into the mind of your opponent, as well,” Lynch said. “I know like in a boxing match, if you go for the body shot, body shot, body shot, go up top, you've got a guy thinking. I think it's the same concept. If you run somebody over, the next play he's going to lower his shoulder and not be able to see anything, and [you can] go over the top.”

But Lynch's successful hurdle still surprised his teammates -- even his buddy Aaron Murray.

“I didn't think he could get that high,” said Murray, Georgia's quarterback. “I don't think anyone did, but that was pretty sweet.”

On the final defensive play of Georgia's 44-41 win against LSU, Jenkins attempted his pass-rush hurdle again, but it didn't go quite as smoothly. Rushing from the right side, he tried to soar over a block from LSU's Travis Dickson – and he was nearly successful again.

He cleared Dickson with his right leg, but the LSU tight end caught Jenkins' left leg and flipped him into the air. Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger stepped backward with Jenkins flying toward him and Leonard Floyd rushing into his face and threw incomplete for a turnover on downs that sealed Georgia's win.

“I didn't pick up my leg like I was supposed to,” Jenkins said. “It's like when you try to jump a hurdle in track, if you don't pick up that back leg, you'll fall down.”

Nonetheless, the hurdle is proving to be an effective-enough technique that Georgia tight ends coach John Lilly instructs his players to look for chances to leap over smaller defenders who will try to take out their legs instead of attempting a traditional tackle.

But even when a player sees his opponent lowering his head and preparing to hit him low, Jenkins said it takes a little something extra to attempt the hurdle instead of a different method of getting away.

“You've got to have that swagger to do it,” Jenkins said. “As long as you have it in your mind, if you know you can do it, if you have it in your head thinking, 'I know I can get this guy' and just commit to that, you can do it. But if you're half-guessing yourself, it ain't going to work out.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Even when his unit lost player after player to injury, Mike Bobo insisted Georgia would keep running its offense as it always had.

There was one problem: over time, that became an impossible proposition.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
AP Photo/Butch DillGeorgia tailback Todd Gurley is expected to return from injury against Florida on Nov. 2.
Here were the Georgia offensive coordinator's top personnel options when the season started:

Tailback: Todd Gurley (1,385 rushing yards, 17 TDs in 2012), Keith Marshall (759-8).

Receiver: Malcolm Mitchell (40 catches for 572 yards last season), Michael Bennett (24-345 in five games last fall), Chris Conley (20-342), Justin Scott-Wesley (made win-clinching touchdown catches against South Carolina and LSU early this season).

After season-ending injuries to Mitchell, Marshall and Scott-Wesley and ailments that kept Gurley and Bennett out for three and two games, respectively, here's the travel roster Bobo was working with on Saturday against Vanderbilt, when he called an ultra-conservative game in hopes of slipping out of Nashville with a win:

Tailback: Freshmen J.J. Green (313 rushing yards, 6.7 yards per carry this season) and Brendan Douglas (218, 4.2), walk-ons Brandon Harton and Kyle Karempelis (no carries between them), Gurley (who is still injured and watched from the sideline).

Receiver: Conley (team-high 30-418 this season), Rantavious Wooten (14-174), true freshman Reggie Davis (7-189), Rhett McGowan (7-70), Jonathon Rumph (who just returned from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for nearly the entire season, but did not play against Vandy), walk-ons Kenneth Towns (no catches) and Michael Erdman (1-6).

That's everybody.

With a full complement of skill players, Bobo has certainly never been afraid to call for the deep ball, and quarterback Aaron Murray hasn't been afraid to throw it. Georgia was actually one of the nation's most successful teams at generating big plays last season when Gurley and Marshall were breaking long runs and the Bulldogs' assortment of wideouts was getting behind the secondary for long completions.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Georgia led the nation last season with 31 touchdowns that covered 20 yards or more and ranked fifth with 63 completions of at least 20-plus yards. And this season initially looked to be more of the same, with 37 plays of 20-plus, six touchdowns of 20-plus and 27 completions of 20-plus through the first five games.

It has been a completely different story over the last two weeks, however. The explosive play did not exist in the 31-27 loss to Vandy -- Georgia's longest play of the game was a 17-yard completion to Green -- and the offense mustered only a paltry 221 yards against a Commodores defense that gave up 51 points to Missouri its last time out.

Murray completed 16 passes for 114 yards, just five more completions than his career low, and attempted only two throws that covered at least 15 yards. Both were incompletions.

The previous week's loss against Missouri was not as underwhelming. The Bulldogs finished with 454 total yards and Murray was 25-for-45 for 290 yards, but nearly half of his completions (11) came on dump-off passes to Green and Douglas, as Bobo and his quarterback elected to dink and dunk to their checkdown receiving options against Missouri's zone defense.

Green broke a 57-yard run and Wooten made a 48-yard reception, but explosive play and aggression was largely lacking in that loss, as well.

The long ball was a key element in the offense in the first five games, with Murray going 21 for 37 on throws of 15 yards or more, averaging 17.8 yards per attempt and connecting for five touchdowns versus no interceptions. He was 4-for-11 on such throws against Vandy (0-2) and Missouri (4-9), but averaged just 8.7 yards per attempt with no touchdowns and two picks.

Georgia still has only six touchdowns that covered 20 yards or more, leaving the Bulldogs in a tie for 74th nationally after leading in that category last fall.

The good news for Georgia is that Gurley and Bennett are expected back for the Bulldogs' next game, Nov. 2 against Florida. Perhaps more than any other player on the roster, even Murray, Gurley is the linchpin in Georgia's offensive explosiveness -- and his presence allows Bobo to call a completely different game than what we just witnessed in Nashville.

The sophomore back's ability to run physically between the tackles forces opponents to funnel defenders into the box to slow him down. And his formidable speed makes Gurley a threat to break a run for a big gain at any time.

The sophomore already has seven touchdowns of 20 yards or more in 18 career games.

Aside from their occasional case of fumble-itis, Green and Douglas have done a fine job in Gurley and Marshall's absence, but they can't replace what Gurley brings to the lineup. If another running back anywhere in the country is capable of that, he's on a mighty short list.

Now will Gurley make a big enough difference against Florida? We shall see. He has been on the shelf since Sept. 28 and hasn't been able to practice for three weeks. But if he returns with fresh legs and his injured ankle has healed to the point that the Gurley of old takes the field in Jacksonville, Georgia's chances of victory -- and its chances of generating big plays on offense -- will increase exponentially.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray is on the verge of breaking several SEC career records, but also needs to help keep Georgia in the SEC East race.
1. Missouri offense vs. Florida defense: Missouri earned its biggest victory in its year-plus in the SEC last weekend when it beat Georgia. The Tigers' challenging October schedule continues this week when No. 22 Florida brings its fearsome defense to Columbia, and the Tigers must face those Gators without starting quarterback James Franklin, who separated his shoulder against Georgia. Freshman Maty Mauk did a fine job against Georgia's subpar defense, but he will face few stiffer challenges than what he'll face Saturday against a Florida defense that is allowing just 235.3 yards per game. Mizzou is third in the SEC in total offense with an average of 515.7 yards per game, so the many talented skill players at Mauk's disposal will have to give the new starter a hand on Saturday.

2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.

3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.

4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.

5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.

6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze and Bo Wallace will try to snap Ole Miss' losing streak against LSU this weekend.
7. Can Hogs “snap out of it?” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he doesn't want his players to be a bunch of “Debbie Downers” after Saturday's 52-7 loss to South Carolina. That was the Razorbacks' fourth straight loss, the most lopsided loss of Bielema's coaching career and matching his worst defeat as a head coach. Unfortunately for Arkansas, it visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, where it will be a four-touchdown underdog. It could be a long second half of the season for the Razorbacks.

8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.

9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.

10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.
ATHENS, Ga. -- J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas combined for 242 yards last Saturday against Missouri, but they also realize that the final score is the statistic that counts most. For the first time this season in a conference game, their Georgia team fell short in that stat.

[+] EnlargeGreen
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesJ.J. Green, a three-star prospect in Georgia's 2013 class, has taken on a much bigger role in the Bulldogs' offense the last two games.
The two freshman running backs have been perfectly capable replacements since injuries cost Georgia the services of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, but the Bulldogs are 15-3 over the last two seasons with Gurley or Marshall as a starter. Without them in the lineup, No. 15 Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) nearly lost to an underwhelming Tennessee team and then followed with last Saturday's 41-26 loss to Mizzou.

“People will be like, 'Yo, if Todd was there, we probably would have won the game. He probably would have had 200 rushing yards my himself,' ” Green said. “I'm like, 'That don't matter at all.' ”

Such confidence is a necessity in order for the freshmen to be productive players, but they also accept that their contributions will be measured by the final results -- and Georgia's offense simply hasn't clicked like it did earlier in the season before numerous injuries hampered the Bulldogs in recent weeks.

“We've still got to win” Green said. “It doesn't matter what we do. We just want to win, man.”

By and large, the freshmen did enough to help Georgia win both games where they've carried the load in the running game. Green rushed for 129 yards against Tennessee, while Douglas scored a touchdown and made a key reception on the Bulldogs' game-tying drive at the end of regulation. Then Green added 87 rushing yards and 42 receiving and Douglas had 70 rushing and 43 receiving against Mizzou, although Douglas also had a critical second-quarter fumble at the Tigers' 6-yard line.

“I'm disappointed,” Douglas said. “I had that turnover right before the half. I tried to go out and make up for it in the second half, but you really can't make up for something like that. It was disappointing and I'm disappointed in myself.”

That's the one obvious mistake the two freshmen have made, but they have otherwise helped Georgia's running game remain productive, even if they can't fully replace a back like Gurley, who surely ranks among the nation's absolute best runners.

“We're not paralyzed or handcuffed with those guys in there,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “They do a good job. I'm very proud of them.”

They have reason to be proud of themselves, as well.

Green was an early enrollee who was initially slated to play receiver, although injury issues during spring practice led Richt's staff to try him out in the backfield. Sure enough, the 5-foot-9 back's tough running and slippery moves impressed his coaches and teammates, and he seems to have found a home at running back. Douglas didn't arrive until the summer, but his battering-ram running style instantly turned heads, as well.

“We were out there even before Todd and Keith got hurt thinking, 'Hey man, any time could be our chance. We prepared for this. When we get out there, just ball, and that's all we could do,' ” Green said.

Gurley has missed two full games, plus most of the Sept. 28 game against LSU when he sprained his left ankle at the end of a second-quarter run. He was listed as limited on Monday's injury report, with Richt saying afterward on his call-in show that, “I'd be surprised if he could practice full speed tomorrow. It truly is day-to-day and he's getting closer. Can I sit here and say he's going to play in the game? I really don't know and can't predict that right now.”

If Gurley can't go in Saturday's visit to Vanderbilt, the two freshmen once again must carry the running game against a Commodores defense that ranks 10th in the SEC against the run by allowing 168.5 yards per game.

Obviously a healthy Gurley would provide a lift to Georgia's offense, but the Bulldogs don't seem to be afraid of the prospect of more Green and Douglas until Gurley returns.

“They've been preparing for their whole life,” senior receiver Rantavious Wooten said. “Even in practice, they've been put in position to make plays and do what they need to do for the offense. At the end of the day, you never know when your number's going to be called. I definitely feel like some young guys are ready for that role whenever their number's called, but it didn't turn out in our favor [against Missouri].”


ATHENS, Ga. – If Georgia's situation doesn't seem familiar, it certainly should. After losing its first SEC game of the season on Saturday, Georgia no longer controls its fate in its pursuit of a league title.

No Bulldogs team has gone unbeaten in SEC play – or even in divisional play – since the conference split into divisions in 1992, and yet Georgia has claimed five SEC East titles in Mark Richt's 12-plus seasons as coach, including each of the last two years.

As they prepare for their often-treacherous visit to Nashville to face Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC), the injury-riddled Bulldogs understand that their BCS championship hopes are all but dead, but they remain among the top contenders in the East -- particularly since they've beaten South Carolina and both Florida and Missouri have injury concerns of their own.

[+] EnlargeShane Ray
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray and the Bulldogs had a rough outing against Missouri and now will need help in the SEC East.
“The past two seasons, we've dug ourselves out of a hole and hopefully we'll try to do it again,” senior tight end Arthur Lynch said. “It's not ideal or what you hope for, but I think for us as a team, we know we can control what's in front of us in terms of the games we play. We have Vanderbilt next week in Nashville. That's going to be a tough game.”

Georgia was in an extremely similar position two years ago when it visited Vanderbilt.

The Bulldogs suffered a pair of early losses and arrived in Nashville needing a win that would make the ensuing open date tolerable with a huge game against Florida on the horizon. Georgia's 33-28 win is best remembered for the postgame shouting match between Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Commodores head coach James Franklin, but it was Georgia punter Drew Butler who made the play of the game when he tackled Kenny Ladler deep in Georgia territory in the game's closing seconds after Udom Umoh blocked a Butler punt.

Georgia claimed a 24-20 win over Florida after the open date and rolled through the rest of the conference schedule, earning the first of two consecutive berths in the SEC championship game and setting up the blueprint for what the Bulldogs now must accomplish in order to return to Atlanta.

“The best thing we can do right now obviously is to get ready to play Vanderbilt and try to get a victory there,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It's been tough to be able to do that, especially last time we were there. It was quite a game if you remember, and we were very fortunate to get out of there with a win.

“So we've got to just try to take care of that business and then the open date we can probably see how the dust is settling then prior to the Florida game. But the biggest thing we can do to help ourselves is to get ready this week.”

No. 14 Missouri (6-0, 2-0) is in the driver's seat in the East after handing No. 15 Georgia (4-2, 3-1) a 41-26 loss on Saturday, but the win was costly for the Tigers. Quarterback James Franklin took a hard hit from Bulldogs outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and suffered a separated shoulder that could force him to miss the rest of the season.

Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk performed well after replacing Franklin against Georgia, but he now must face No. 22 Florida (4-2, 3-1) and No. 11 South Carolina (5-1, 3-1) over the next two weeks. Florida dropped its first league game on Saturday at LSU, meaning the Gators' next two games -- at Mizzou and against Georgia in Jacksonville -- will have a major say in their fate. And South Carolina still must beat Mizzou and Florida and hope Georgia loses again somewhere along the line.

“It's the SEC. You never know. Missouri could lose, too,” Georgia running back Brendan Douglas said. “You never know what could happen. But Missouri's a great team. I'm not going to say anything about them, but you never know what could happen.”

[+] Enlarge Jordan Matthews
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesJordan Matthews and Vanderbilt enter Saturday's game against Georgia also off a loss to Missouri after a bye.
Richt agreed with that sentiment, noting on his Sunday teleconference that, “It might be who can handle the adversity the best – who can find a way to win, who can fight and scratch and figure out a way. That's probably what it's going to come down to.”

Georgia learned that much over the last few weeks when injuries to tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley, Jonathon Rumph and Michael Bennett and safety Tray Matthews caused the Bulldogs to play most of the last two games without some of their top playmakers.

Although Mitchell, Marshall and Scott-Wesley are out for the year and Bennett is out until at least the Florida game, Richt said Rumph should return to practice on Monday. Gurley and Matthews, he said, also might return for the Vandy game.

Regardless of whether they play, the main goal for Georgia this week is to get out of Nashville with a win that lets the Bulldogs reach their off week, heal from some of the injuries that have been so costly lately, and prepare for the showdown in Jacksonville. The back end of the Bulldogs' conference schedule -- after facing four top-15 teams in the first six games -- is more manageable, but they have to get past Vanderbilt for those games to matter the way they have in the last two seasons.

“We really need to just focus on the task at hand, which right now is Vanderbilt, and take it one game at a time,” Lynch said. “To be 4-2 after the kind of gauntlet we've been through, with four or five ranked teams in six games, is not easy.

“I think that even if from a national standpoint, people have kind of lost hope for us, which is fine in my eyes, no team will have a better resume in terms of strength of schedule than we have through this season, so I think there's some merit in that.”

Gurley close to returning for Georgia

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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After missing the last two games with an ankle injury, Georgia running back Todd Gurley appears close to returning to the field.

Georgia coach Mark Richt said on Sunday that Gurley is "real close" to returning.

"I'll say this: He's close. He's real close," Richt said.

Richt stressed that they don't want to rush Gurley back and that "whenever he looks healthy enough, we'll play him."

Gurley leads the Bulldogs with 450 rushing yards and four touchdowns in four games. The Bulldogs won an overtime game at Tennessee but lost at home to Missouri last week while Gurley has been out. Keith Marshall, the Bulldogs' other top running back, was lost to a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee and the Bulldogs have relied upon freshmen Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green since then.

(Read the full post)

Mistakes kill chance for more UGA magic

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
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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 from regrouping offense

October, 8, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt delivered the bad news on Sunday when he confirmed that tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley would join wideout Malcolm Mitchell on the season-ending injury list.

With receiver Michael Bennett (knee) out and All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley (ankle) questionable for Saturday's game against No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC), No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0) has little time to identify the personnel who must play larger roles in order to hang with a Tigers offense that ranks among the nation's most productive units.

Here are four groups/trends to watch as the Bulldogs move forward:

Freshman tailbacks: With Georgia's two star backs both possibly out Saturday, it's certainly possible we will see another heavy dose of true freshmen J.J. Green -- who rushed for 129 yards last Saturday against Tennessee -- and Brendan Douglas at tailback.

[+] EnlargeBrendan Douglas
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsBrendan Douglas and fellow freshman J.J. Green likely will be asked to shoulder more of the load.
That isn't necessarily a scary proposition for the Bulldogs, who have seen the young duo perform well in practice and in spot duty up until last Saturday's overtime win.

“We see those guys in practice, and they do a great job of breaking tackles or shaking guys or breaking loose for touchdowns against a great defense,” offensive guard Chris Burnette said. “Seeing them do that in practice, we know they're capable of doing that in a game.”

The larger question is what happens if Gurley is unable to play Saturday. If one of the top running backs in the nation remains unable to go as the week progresses -- and he once again did not practice on Monday -- Georgia's coaches might have to take a longer look this week at freshman A.J. Turman.

He seemed like a certain redshirt candidate a week ago, but Richt's staff must determine whether the two freshmen who already have played and walk-ons Kyle Karempelis and Brandon Harton would be enough to carry the load without Gurley and Marshall.

“A lot may depend on how Gurley's doing,” Richt said. “If Gurley comes back and you've got the other two, you don't normally have to go three backs. But if Gurley can't go, then we've got to try to figure out what we're going to do. We've got Harton and Karempelis that have played for us before, so those are possibilities. We've just got to kind of try to figure that out.

Wild cards: Speaking of Turman, he's not the only newcomer who has not played yet and still might or might not make an impact this fall.

Receivers Tramel Terry and Jonathon Rumph -- Georgia's second- and sixth-highest-rated 2013 signees in ESPN's player rankings -- have not played to date but still could factor into offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's plans ... eventually.

Richt said "it's very doubtful that [Rumph would] be ready" for the Missouri game while still dealing with a left hamstring strain, but "after that, we're going to definitely try to get him ready."

Meanwhile, Terry struggled during preseason practice while still recovering from offseason ACL surgery and seemed set to redshirt this season. But because of the receiver attrition, the freshman might be someone the coaches eventually consider.

“I just think the longer he practices coming back from his injury, the better he'll be,” Richt said. “Is he really ready for this type of competition? I don't know.

“And the fact that he hasn't had a lot of reps with our offensive unit, he's been working mainly scout team reps, and he's a freshman, so it's hard to really be ready in all the ways that you have to be ready -- not only physically, but knowing the game plan and just having experience running the routes and playing in games like that. So I'm not counting him out, but I really don't know the answer right now.”

More tight ends: Considering the level of in-game attrition that occurred at Tennessee, perhaps the most surprising statistic from that game was that neither Arthur Lynch nor Jay Rome made a reception.

Expect that to rank as a statistical anomaly moving forward.

When Georgia's receivers encountered a number of injury issues last season, Lynch and Rome were two of the top pass-catching beneficiaries. The two tight ends combined for 25 catches for 367 yards -- 251 by Lynch and 116 by Rome – over the final six games last season. In the first eight games of 2012, they combined for 10 catches and 216 yards.

Lynch and Rome have 212 yards -- 169 by Lynch and 43 by Rome -- this season.

[+] EnlargeRantavious Wooten
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesWith injuries mounting, senior Rantavious Wooten might be counted on to play a much larger role.
Replacement receivers: Junior Chris Conley -- who led Georgia with 64 receiving yards and made a tremendous one-handed touchdown catch against Tennessee -- is nearly the only known quantity in the Bulldogs' receiving corps for the time being.

Yes, they have fifth-year seniors Rhett McGowan and Rantavious Wooten available, but both players have been role players throughout their careers. Beyond that, Georgia might need reserves like Reggie Davis, Blake Tibbs, Michael Erdman, Kenny Townes to pick up their production.

“We're deep in the receiver room,” McGowan said. “A lot of people don't know that, because they haven't played, but they're at Georgia for a reason.”

Bennett will undergo arthroscopic surgery today to determine the extent of his knee injury. Even if he receives positive news, the junior will certainly miss the Missouri game and possibly more time after that.

Since they have dealt with regular injuries over the last two seasons, the receivers believe they are well-prepared for their current situation and now must take advantage of this opportunity.

“[Receivers coach Tony] Ball always tells me, 'Prepare like you are the starter, and you never know, because you're one play away from [being] a starter,' ” said Wooten, who caught two touchdowns against Tennessee. “So all the guys know that in the room, and I know that myself, and I always had that in the back of my head. Any guy could be the next man up. The coaches have the final decision on that, but at the end of the day, that's what we do, we practice, and we get ready for those types of situations.”

With injuries hitting many of its most important offensive players and Tennessee rallying to take a late lead, No. 6 Georgia barely forced overtime with a game-tying touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to Rantavious Wooten with 5 seconds remaining. After Tennessee's Alton Howard fumbled at the pylon for a touchback to halt the Volunteers' overtime possession, Georgia's Marshall Morgan blasted a 42-yard field goal to help Georgia slip away with a 34-31 victory.

Let's take a quick look at how the Bulldogs earned the win.

It was over when: It was truly anybody's game until Morgan drilled the winning field goal. Tennessee had converted a number of fourth-down attempts, capitalized on big special-teams plays and found a rhythm against the Bulldogs' porous defense. But Howard's fumble gave the Bulldogs the break they had not enjoyed all game and Morgan's kick helped them survive the upset bid.

Gameball goes to: Murray. He started the game without injured All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley after losing top wideout Malcolm Mitchell in the opener. Then Keith Marshall went down early with a knee injury. Then receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley both left with injuries of their own. But somehow Georgia's quarterback drove his team for the tying score -- on a 2-yard pass to Wooten -- and did enough with his skeleton-crew offense to win.

Stat of the game: Georgia was 1-for-9 on third down before its final drive of regulation, but the Bulldogs converted three first downs on the final drive, including Murray's pass to Wooten for the tying score. Georgia finished 4-for-13.

Unsung heroes of the game: Freshman tailback J.J. Green took over when Marshall suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and propelled Georgia's running game with 17 carries for 129 yards in his first extensive playing time of his young career. His fellow freshman tailback Brendan Douglas deserves a nod for his key 32-yard catch that set up Wooten's game-tying touchdown.

What it means: Tennessee came within an eyelash of ending an 18-game losing streak against ranked opponents, but Georgia survived. The Bulldogs' status as the SEC East's overwhelming favorite is now in great doubt, however, after potentially serious injuries to Marshall, Bennett and Scott-Wesley on Saturday.
ATHENS, Ga. -- When Keith Marshall originally signed with Georgia, most expected it to be only a matter of time until he emerged as the Bulldogs' top option at tailback.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesKeith Marshall had a career-best game against Tennessee a year ago.
It took 18 games, and it only happened because fellow sophomore Todd Gurley left last week's LSU game with an ankle sprain. But Marshall handled the No. 1 tailback duties well enough -- a career-high 20 carries for 96 yards -- that those around him feel he can handle the job capably for a full game if Gurley is unable to go Saturday against Tennessee.

“I think [Marshall] could easily carry it 15, 20, 25 times if he had to,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Wednesday's practice.

Marshall -- the only five-star prospect in Georgia's 2012 recruiting class and the No. 5 overall prospect that year -- had never carried the ball more than 16 times in a game before the LSU game, but said he didn't feel any worse for the wear after the heavier workload against the Tigers.

“You're always sore after a game, especially a big-time, physical football [game], so you always get a little sore,” Marshall said. “But I wasn't too bad.”

In fact, he was dynamic against LSU immediately after taking over for Gurley. On the drive where Gurley suffered the ankle injury at the end of a 23-yard run, Marshall followed with four carries for 41 yards before Marshall Morgan kicked a field goal to put the Bulldogs ahead 17-14.

As the game progressed, however, Marshall grew less effective. He ran 13 times in the rest of the game, but picked up only 35 more yards.

He experienced similar results against Clemson while filling in for an injured Gurley. After Gurley missed nearly a quarter of action with a quadriceps strain following a 75-yard touchdown run, Marshall ran seven times before Gurley returned to the game, picking up only 11 yards.

He struggled picking up yards after contact in both outings -- a clear strength of Gurley's -- and said earlier this week that improving in that area is one of his biggest goals.

If Georgia's offensive line blocks against Tennessee on Saturday like it did a season ago, however, Marshall won't have to worry much about breaking tackles. He exploded through a number of big holes to rush for a career-high 164 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries in the Bulldogs' win against the Volunteers last fall.

“Last year, the whole offense had a great game,” Marshall said of Georgia's 51-44 win. “I think the offensive line blocked well and did a good job opening up holes, so I just had a couple of big runs.”

Gurley tested the ankle before practice on Wednesday, but was unable to take the field with his teammates. Richt didn't rule out the All-SEC star, who was leading the league in rushing entering the LSU game and now has a team-high 450 rushing yards, but it was apparent that the No. 6 Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0 SEC) are looking hard at other options in the event that Gurley does not play.

Behind Marshall (51 carries, 213 yards, 1 TD), those options begin with true freshmen J.J. Green (5-65, 1 TD) and Brendan Douglas (11-39).

“J.J. and Brendan had to spot play in the first four games, so they're paying attention this week. Their reps have gone up since Todd hadn't practiced the first two days,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said after Tuesday's practice. “We've just got to get them ready. I'm glad we've got some depth there. It is young, but we've got to get those guys ready to play.”

The Bulldogs also have walk-on Kyle Karempelis available along with another true freshman, A.J. Turman, although Richt said he does not plan to burn Turman's redshirt over what would likely be a short-term absence for Gurley.

Even if Gurley made enough of a last-minute recovery to play on Saturday, his workload would likely be reduced significantly with some combination of Marshall, Green and Douglas taking the bulk of the snaps. And that's not such a terrible problem with Tennessee's porous run defense -- the Vols rank 11th in the SEC in run defense, allowing 163.2 yards per game -- awaiting them on Saturday.

Nobody knew Gurley would become the force in Georgia's running game that he quickly became after joining the Bulldogs last summer, overshadowing the highest-profile recruit in his signing class, Marshall. The duo emerged as one of the nation's better rushing duos, however, with Marshall (759 yards, 8 TDs last season) playing the complementary role to leading man Gurley (1,385, 17 TDs).

It might very well be Marshall's time to shine alone on Saturday, but that hardly seemed to be a source of concern among the Bulldogs.

“It's awesome having a back like that, especially one who's considered, quotation mark, a backup,” receiver Chris Conley said. “Keith's worked like a starter, he's practiced like a starter and to us he is a starter with Todd. It's good to have two backs who play like that.”

Big first run only the start for Douglas

September, 17, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As career debuts go, few can match Brendan Douglas in terms of the pressure of the moment.

The Georgia freshman had not touched the ball yet in his first college game -- he missed the opener against Clemson with an injury -- when running backs coach Bryan McClendon sent him in to spell Todd Gurley with the Bulldogs attempting to protect a 41-30 lead late in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. And all he did was break through a hole on his first career carry and flatten Gamecocks safety Brison Williams to pick up 17 yards right in front of his team's sideline, where his teammates celebrated like Douglas just scored a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeDouglas
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsBrendan Douglas made the most of his chance against South Carolina.
“It was crazy. That's what he's been doing since he got here,” fullback Quayvon Hicks said.

Gurley agreed: “That dude is a beast. If only you would have seen him in camp.”

Douglas generated considerable buzz during Georgia's August practices with his physical running style, but the injury before the Clemson game and the stakes in the following week's game against South Carolina -- stars Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 40 touches, 252 yards and three touchdowns – meant an opportunity had not arisen for Douglas to enter the pivotal SEC East game.

But with Marshall out of the game with a knee injury and Gurley needing a breather, Georgia's coaches turned to the freshman midway through what would become the game's final possession. The Bulldogs took over at their own 1 with 8:28 left, but hammered away at the Gamecocks' defensive front to drive 81 yards and use up all of the remaining time on the clock.

The lead hammer? Douglas, who took his first carry with 5:10 remaining and handled the ball on five of the game's final eight plays.

“If Keith was not hurt, he probably wouldn't have gotten that opportunity, but he got the opportunity and he took great advantage of it,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Every time we've seen him scrimmage, we saw what you guys saw -- a really powerful runner who's got good ball security and some good vision. So like I've been saying, he's a very legitimate Southeastern Conference tailback in my opinion, and I think he's going to have a good career for us before it's all over.”

Even Douglas was surprised, however, when McClendon called his name for the first time.

“He called me over and I was a little surprised, I guess, but I was ready to go,” Douglas told his hometown Augusta Chronicle in the tunnel outside the locker room following the game.

UGA has not cleared Douglas to participate in media sessions since preseason practice, but his coaches and teammates are more than willing to praise his talents.

For instance, Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said last week that they already view Douglas as one of the team's top short-yardage backs.

“We feel confident in him running in those situations,” Bobo said. “He does a nice job. He's hard to tackle, low to the ground, good balance and has exhibited good ball security here in camp.”

He certainly proved that on his first career carry, when he lowered his shoulder to knock Williams to the ground before slamming into other South Carolina defenders near the Georgia bench.

Teammates like Corey Moore, Amarlo Herrera and Hutson Mason led the cheers from the sidelines as dozens of Bulldogs ran toward Douglas to celebrate the run that helped nail down an enormous win.

One of the first to reach him was tight end Arthur Lynch, who lifted Douglas into the air during the party and who expects that to be only the first of many such celebrations involving the freshman tailback.

“He was a guy that was about to go to Georgia Tech, so thank God we got him here,” Lynch said. “He's a hard-nosed kid, he's deceivingly fast, he holds the ball high and tight, which is really what you want out of a running back.

“He's got that attribute that Todd has: you can't bring him down with one guy alone and he has very good balance, so I think he's very good to have in our backfield.”

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