SEC: Isaiah Crowell

Georgia announced the dismissal of Josh Harvey-Clemons on Tuesday with a two-sentence press release.

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Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesJosh Harvey-Clemons let a big opportunity get away after being dismissed from Georgia.
No “We wish him well” quote from Mark Richt. No olive branch for a player who was one of the Bulldogs' most-coveted signees in a strong 2012 recruiting class.

This was goodbye and good riddance, which is a genuine shame.

Nobody is happy to see a player's refusal to follow the rules result in his unceremonious exit from a program. This is somebody's life, and now it's in turmoil after rumors swirled for a couple of weeks about his status on the team. As in the case of another recent five-star Bulldog who departed Athens too early -- tailback Isaiah Crowell, the SEC’s 2011Freshman of the Year whose arrest led to his dismissal before the next season -- this feels particularly galling when that player seems to be wasting such promise.

This kind of reaction wasn't limited to fans and media members after Georgia's announcement. Take what 2013 senior tight end Arthur Lynch tweeted in response to the news: “Just to be clear, those who decide not to do it the RIGHT way do not deserve to don the Red & Black. It is a privilege, not a right.”

Harvey-Clemons is far from the first Georgia player to run afoul of the program's substance policy -- assuming such a violation was the last straw here, as in the previous suspensions involving the rising junior safety -- and he won't be the last. The program's strict rules regarding drug and alcohol issues mean that Richt consistently deals with suspensions related to substance problems.

Whatever the reason for Harvey-Clemons' departure, it is clear that Richt has had enough. He certainly wouldn't kick one his most talented players off the team, when the Bulldogs' shaky defense could certainly use all the help it can get, unless Harvey-Clemons left him no other option.

Harvey-Clemons will almost certainly land somewhere else -- he's too talented for this to be the end of his career -- but he will carry this label from now on. Whenever someone searches for his name on Google. At his next college stop. Whenever NFL teams evaluate his readiness to become a reliable professional.

He clearly wasn't a reliable college player, getting himself suspended at least twice before Tuesday's announcement. And that lack of reliability leaves Georgia in a lurch at one of its thinnest positions. The Bulldogs struggled at safety a season ago and now players like Tray Matthews, Tramel Terry, Quincy Mauger and Corey Moore face even more pressure to perform after a veteran who started 11 games last season has unexpectedly left the team.

Perhaps this is for the best in the long term, since Harvey-Clemons' absences and injuries to other safeties created continuity issues that impacted Georgia's secondary for much of last season. Perhaps starting fresh and knowing who will be available allows new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt to better prepare his defensive backs this fall.

For now, though, this feels like a sad day -- one where someone who could have become a Georgia great instead became another castoff because he couldn't get his act together. It's a difficult lesson for Harvey-Clemons to learn just two days before his 20th birthday, but here's hoping that Richt's actions on Tuesday caused his message to finally resonate and that Harvey-Clemons takes better advantage of his second chance than he did with the opportunity he just squandered.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Gabe Wright was supposed to be a part of Georgia’ “Dream Team” recruiting class in 2011.

He hails from Columbus, Ga. He was teammates with Isaiah Crowell, a five-star running back who signed with the Bulldogs. As a sophomore, Wright thought he wanted to stay in state and play for Georgia.

Carl Lawson, Gabe Wright
Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia native Gabe Wright never doubted his decision to spurn the Bulldogs for Auburn.
“There was pretty much no doubt then that I wanted to be a Bulldog,” he said.

But all that changed when Todd Grantham replaced Willie Martinez as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. The Bulldogs transitioned from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense, and among other things, Wright didn’t feel like he was a fit with the in-state school anymore.

So on signing day, when Crowell held up a bulldog puppy to announce his intentions to sign with Georgia, Wright put on an Auburn hat and signed with the Tigers.

Mark Richt and his staff inked 19 recruits from the Peach State in that 2011 class, but they let Wright, the state’s No. 4 prospect, slip away.

At first, the decision looked like it could be the wrong one. Wright watched as Georgia went 12-2 last season, narrowly missing a chance to play for the BCS national championship. Meanwhile, Auburn finished 3-9 and failed to win an SEC game. When the two teams met, Georgia shut out the Tigers to the tune of 38-0 last November.

“Before this season, I remember telling the [players] it was hard to go home and wear some of our 'AU' gear because we were 3-9,” Wright said. “It's not so much that people look at the Georgia game. It was just as a whole.”

But Wright never doubted his decision. He never wavered.

Now, Auburn is 9-1, ranked No. 7 in the BCS, and it controls its own destiny in the SEC West. It’s been the biggest turnaround in college football, and Wright can proudly wear his Auburn gear when he goes back home now.

But the Tigers face an old nemesis on Saturday in Georgia, a team that has beat them in eight of the past 11 games.

“It's the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry,” Wright said. “From a personal standpoint, I've yet to beat Georgia. There are a lot of guys that have yet to beat Georgia, all except that senior class.”

In all, Auburn has 26 players from the state of Georgia on its roster. It’s a big game from the standpoint of where the Tigers are and what they can still accomplish, but it’s also a big game on a personal level for a number of players.

“Growing up, all I hear is Georgia so I’m definitely amped up about this game for sure,” said tight end C.J. Uzomah, a native of Suwanee, Ga.

Cornerback Jonathon Mincy grew up in Atlanta as a Georgia fan, but he wasn’t even recruited by the Bulldogs.

"For everybody from Georgia, this is a personal game,” Mincy said. “Just us being there, being [from] in state and for the folks that weren't able to be recruited. It's going to be a fun game, and I'm excited to go out there and play."

But ultimately, it’s just another game on the schedule. Auburn has taken the one-game-at-a-time approach, and this week is no different. It doesn’t matter that it’s a rivalry game. It doesn’t matter that there will be plenty of familiar faces on the opposite sideline. It’s just another game.

“All that aside, it's another week,” Wright said. “Guys have showed that we've been able to persevere, push through. There ain't no stopping now.”

Dream Team's bond faces unusual test

November, 14, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – The members of Georgia's 2011 “Dream Team” recruiting class still maintain a close bond, even if circumstances have taken some members of the class to other places.

That bond between players will face an unusual test on Saturday when former Dream Teamer Nick Marshall – now Auburn's starting quarterback after Bulldogs coach Mark Richt dismissed him, Sanford Seay and Chris Sanders following the 2011 season after getting caught stealing from teammates – will stand on the opposite sideline from his former classmates.

[+] EnlargeJay Rome
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsJay Rome (87) and Malcolm Mitchell (26), who were member of Georgia's Class of 2011 Dream Team, have had plenty to celebrate through the years.
“Weird I wouldn't say is the right word for it. It's going to be different going against one of the guys that you did come in with and actually roomed with when we first got here,” said defensive end Ray Drew, who roomed with Marshall, Seay, Jay Rome, Malcolm Mitchell and Sterling Bailey at Georgia's Reed Hall when the class first arrived on campus.

Georgia was coming off a disappointing 6-7 season when the Dream Team signed with the Bulldogs, and the group was never shy in expressing its intention of helping the program get back on track. They had the nation's top tailback and No. 4 overall prospect in Isaiah Crowell, another five-star talent in Drew, the No. 1 tight end in Rome and a large group including Mitchell, John Jenkins, Amarlo Herrera, Chris Conley and Damian Swann who would contribute soon after becoming Bulldogs.

There was a level of self-assurance within the group that was somewhat unusual for a group of freshmen.

“Coming in I do believe the guys did have some confidence about themselves – that this was going to be the class that did some big things,” Drew recalled. “And there's still that possibility. We still can. That swagger you're talking about, I can see that being there. It was. You can't deny it.”

Truth be told, they've already been part of some big things. Crowell was named the SEC's Freshman of the Year in his lone season on campus – he was dismissed in the summer of 2012 after a weapons possession arrest and is now starring at Alabama State – and the Bulldogs won their first SEC East championship since 2005.

They played in a second straight SEC championship game at the end of last season and fell only a few yards short of playing for a BCS title – with multiple Dream Team members playing key roles on a team that would finish fifth nationally.

“I think we've actually got a good resume being here,” said Swann, now in his second season as a starting cornerback. “We beat Auburn twice, we beat Florida three times, we've been to the SEC championship two times since I've been here. We're 1-1 in a bowl game. I think with the resume that my class has put together, I think it's actually one to look at, and I think we're continuing to improve it and make it better.”

That they are. Linebacker Ramik Wilson leads the SEC with 92 tackles, with Herrera's 79 stops ranking fourth. Drew is sixth in the league with six sack. Wideouts Mitchell, Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley have all flashed star potential, although injuries have struck all three players this season. Center David Andrews, also a second-year starter, is one of the leaders of the Bulldogs' offensive line.

And junior college transfer Jenkins is already in the NFL – the New Orleans Saints picked him in the third round of this year's draft – after solidifying the middle of the Bulldogs' defensive line in 2011 and 2012.

“We've done some pretty good things,” said defensive end Bailey, who has started eight times this season in his first significant dose of playing time. “You had some players from the Dream Team come in and make an impact and then you had some players behind some great players who are playing in the NFL right now and got experience and now being in the third year, we're putting all that experience to work.”

The Georgia journey ended early for several members of the class. Marshall, Seay and Sanders were all dismissed together and Crowell followed them out the door a few months later. Safety Quintavious Harrow left shortly after his former Carver-Columbus teammate and close friend Crowell.

In all, seven members of the 26-man signing class are either gone or never enrolled at Georgia at all (linebacker Kent Turene). But the remaining Dream Teamers still maintain a close bond, Drew said.

“There's a tightness between us,” he said. “I think even though we're tight as a team, I think there's just one more stitch or two between us that pulls us close. Whenever you see one person, you're always going to see someone else from the same class right there with them just tagging along.”

The bulk of the class should remain intact for at least one more season, with several more Dream Teamers who redshirted still carrying two seasons of eligibility after 2013. That time, they said, is what will determine whether they meet the high expectations that accompanied their arrival.

“We're still in the process,” Wilson said. “A lot of us are just now starting to play, so it's in the process of something becoming great.

“We all had high expectations of playing early and turning this program around. As soon as we stepped on this campus, we went to the SEC championship from that 6-7 year. So all we had was nothing but success here, 10-win seasons, since I've been here. So we're just trying to keep that going.”
We checked on the SEC's 3,000-yard passers from 2012 on Thursday, so we're taking a look at the running backs who hit the coveted 1,000-yard mark last fall.

Last summer, we looked at 10 running backs we thought could eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark. The SEC had four players reach 1,000 yards on the ground in 2011, and had nine, including Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, in 2012. I thought it was supposed to be the Year of the Quarterback?

Here's how the 10 running backs we looked at last year did in 2012:

1. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Well, maybe if he actually played a down for the Bulldogs this year he might have had a chance to reach 1,000 yards. Instead, Crowell was dismissed before the season and spent 2012 rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns at Alabama State.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas: Davis said he was 100 percent after missing all of 2011 with an ankle injury, but he never displayed the explosiveness and strength that made him a star in 2010. Davis was still hesitant at times and carried the ball only 112 times for 377 yards and two touchdowns.

3. James Franklin, Missouri: His laundry list of injuries and a banged-up offensive line didn't really help the dual-threat quarterback when it came to running the ball. A year removed from almost getting to 1,000 yards, Franklin rushed for just 122 yards and averaged 1.4 yards per carry in the process.

4. Eddie Lacy, Alabama: Real shocker that an Alabama running back bulldozed his way past 1,000 yards. Lacy overpowered defenders and left plenty looking silly with his patented spin move all year, finishing the season ranking third in the SEC with 1,322 yards and tying for second with 17 touchdowns. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry.

5. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: For the second straight year, Lattimore's pursuit of 1,000 yards was cut short by a devastating knee injury. He rushed for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns on 143 attempts before dislocating his right knee and tearing multiple ligaments against Tennessee on Oct. 27.

6. Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Like Lattimore, Michael was coming off of an ACL injury this fall, but he never seemed to really fit in the Aggies' new spread scheme. Eventually, he really wasn't Texas A&M's first option at running back and he finished the season with 417 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 11 games of action.

7. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State: Perkins spent most of the year near the top of the SEC in all-purpose yards and was one of the toughest runners in the league. He averaged a stout 5 yards per carry and finished the year with 1,024 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

8. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt: For the second straight year, Stacy finished the season with more than 1,000 yards for the Commodores. Even with a few more weapons to use on the offensive side, Stacy rushed for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns on 207 carries.

9. Spencer Ware, LSU: Ware wasn't the same workhorse that he was for the Tigers in 2011. He played in 12 games, but only started four and carried the ball just 94 times for 367 yards (that's just 3.9 yards per carry). He finished fourth on the team in rushing and scored just one touchdown in 2012.

10. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Pretty good assumption last summer. Yeldon made sure he and Lacy were a migraine for defenses, as he pounded and darted his way to 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry and 74.1 yards in SEC games. Lacy packed the punch, while Yeldon showcased the moves last fall.

Who was overlooked:
  • Mike Gillislee, Florida: He proclaimed before the season that he'd rush for 1,500 yards and more than 20 touchdowns. He didn't get there, but he did become the first Gator to rush for 1,000 yards (1,152) since 2004. He basically was Florida's offense and added 10 touchdowns on the ground.
  • Todd Gurley, Georgia: We looked at the wrong Bulldog last summer. Gurley made more of an impact for Georgia as a freshman than Crowell did in 2011, finishing second in the SEC in rushing (first among running backs) with 1,385 yards and added 17 touchdowns to his 6.2 yards per carry.
  • Kendial Lawrence, Missouri: He was almost forgotten because of the year Henry Josey had for most of the 2011 season, but Lawrence was Mizzou's most consistent offensive weapon last fall, rushing for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
  • Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: The Heisman winner was arguably the nation's most elusive player in the country when he took off running. He shredded defenses all season and led the SEC with 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 7 yards per carry.
  • Tre Mason, Auburn: There wasn't a lot to smile about on the Plains this past fall, but Mason was the best weapon the Tigers had, as he rushed for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.

TideNation links: Uptempo troubles

November, 27, 2012
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Alex Scarborough writes Insider: What’s the key to beating Alabama? In its three losses since 2010, and a near-miss against LSU this year, it’s been an uptempo passing attack.

Greg Ostendorf writes Insider: More than 20 players from the Peach State will line up for the Tide in Saturday’s SEC title game, though the Dawgs have won some key recruiting battles between the programs.

Note: Join Ostendorf at 1 p.m. ET/noon CT for a chat in the TideNation forum, The Tusk Insider.

Midseason report: Georgia

October, 16, 2012
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GEORGIA

Record: 5-1 (3-1 SEC)

Before the season, the general consensus was that the Bulldogs had all the talent on both sides of the ball to make not only an SEC run but a national championship run. And for the first five weeks of the season, Georgia was meeting all of its expectations. Then, the Bulldogs met South Carolina, and all of sudden people are diving off the bandwagon.

The defense, which returned nearly everyone from 2011, was supposed to continue its run as one of the nation’s best, but has developed a few holes through the past few weeks. Against Tennessee, the Bulldogs' defense gave up 36 points and almost 500 yards of offense. The defense was then pushed around a week later in the blowout loss to South Carolina. This unit is way too talented to play like this.

But the offense has some firepower, ranking second in the SEC in scoring and total offense. Before the South Carolina game, the Bulldogs scored more than 40 points in each of their first five games for the first time in school history. Quarterback Aaron Murray had been playing his best ball as a Bulldog, and the offense benefited from the two-headed freshman monster at running back in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. They were the spark this offense needed in the backfield after losing Isaiah Crowell this summer and are combining to rush for 173.3 yards per game.

The East is still there for Georgia, but the Dawgs must win out.

Offensive MVP: Gurley: What a debut for Gurley. He wasn’t even the most hyped running back in his class, but he has shot up the charts in the SEC with his 575 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. The bullish back is averaging 7.1 yards per carry and also has a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Defensive MVP: LB Jarvis Jones: At one point, he was thought to be the SEC’s best player, but has been almost nonexistent the past couple of weeks. Offenses know how deadly he is and have game planned accordingly. Still, he was getting Heisman love this year after his stellar performance at Missouri and double-teaming him is the only way to stop him. He has 36 tackles on the season and is third in the SEC with 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

SEC: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
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It seems like only yesterday people were talking about an LSU-USC national championship, and weren't totally sold on Alabama making another run to a national title.

Oh, how things change in a matter of a month.

Now that September has come and gone, it's time to take a look back at some of the SEC's best and worst moments from the first month of the college football season. We'll also take a look at three storylines to keep an eye on in October:

September's best:

1. Alabama's dominant run to No. 1 in the polls: In September, it appeared the Crimson Tide were just reloading after their national championship season. Alabama destroyed Michigan in its season opener at Cowboys Stadium and has mangled its past four opponents by a combined score of 160-21, including a 52-0 romp over Arkansas in Fayetteville. Questions surrounded Alabama's defense, but it's been utterly dominant, leading the nation in scoring defense and ranking in the top four in total, rushing and passing defense. There's no question that this is the best, most complete team in the country.

2. Florida's emergence in the East: We didn't know what we were going to get from the Gators in Year 2 of Will Muschamp's coaching career. The defense hasn't really surprised us with how it's played, but the offense has made tremendous strides since last season, thanks to Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee. Driskel has been splendid for the Gators, running that offense like a vet with his ability to own the second half of games. Gillislee has given this offense the downhill running threat it's missed since Tim Tebow was around. The Gators have dominated in the second half of games and haven't allowed any fourth-quarter points.

3. Georgia's sensational freshman duo: The Bulldogs had to find some success in their running game after Isaiah Crowell's dismissal, and with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall tearing it up, Crowell is a distant memory. The fabulous freshmen have combined for 964 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 536 yards and nine touchdowns. He's also averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Marshall, who has displayed some of the best open-field speed in the SEC, is averaging 8.2 yards per carry and cranked out touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards against Tennessee over the weekend. It's hard to stop a train, let alone two.

September's worst

1. Arkansas' total meltdown: Heading into the season, I had a feeling that this team would struggle with adversity without Bobby Petrino around. This team hasn't just struggled, it has totally collapsed. John L. Smith has lost this team, as the Razorbacks are 1-4 and have been outscored 203-116. Against Alabama and Texas A&M, the Hogs were outscored by 100 points. This all started with Petrino's now-infamous motorcycle ride back in April, but trouble on the field was magnified by Arkansas' overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Since then, there hasn't been a lot of fight out of this team and quarterback Tyler Wilson went as far as to say his team "quit" against Alabama. The same should have been said about the 58-10 loss to Texas A&M.

2. Defensive woes: It was a rough month for some of the SEC's defenses that were supposed to be better in 2012. Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee are all giving up more than 400 yards a game, after all hired new defensive coordinators. The Hogs own the SEC's worst defense, allowing 510.2 yards per game and 40.6 points per game under Paul Haynes. Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has been through the SEC before, but the Tigers are allowing 419.3 yards per game. As Tennessee continues to transition to Sal Sunseri's 3-4 defense, it's clear the Vols aren't ready for it, as they are allowing 425.8 yards and nearly 30 points a game.

3. Missouri's SEC start: After Mizzou's first two SEC games, the Tigers are a decisive 0-2 and have been outscored by Georgia and South Carolina by a combined 72-30 margin. Mizzou put up a good fight through the first three quarters against Georgia, but had no steam in the fourth. This team barely looked alive against South Carolina, as the Gamecocks just pushed the Tigers around all day. The Tigers said they could handle the size and speed of the SEC, but haven't through two games.

October storylines:

1. Will the real LSU stand up? Entering the season, LSU was one of the country's best teams on paper. Now, we're all wondering what this team will do going forward after it ended the month with less than flattering outings against Auburn and Towson. LSU's offense struggled to get much of anything going against an overmatched Auburn defense, and the Tigers' defense then allowed 188 rushing yards and 22 points to Towson. It isn't panic time in Baton Rouge, but what's this team's true identity? A lot has to be cleaned up in a month that features trips to Florida and Texas A&M and a home game against South Carolina.

2. Can Manziel continue his red-hot run? Georgia's frosh duo at running back has stolen the freshman headlines, but Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been spectacular this year. Through four games, the redshirt freshman has passed for 1,094 yards and 10 touchdowns (no interceptions) and has rushed for a team-high 366 yards and six more scores. He's been the league's best dual-threat quarterback, and while his feet have made him and A&M's offense that much more dangerous, he's turning into a better passer with each game. Against Arkansas, his 557 yards of total offense (453 passing yards and 104 rushing yards) set an SEC record.

3. East race could settle itself: This month, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all play each other. That means that come Nov. 1, we might know who really has the upper hand in the East race. Florida has a chance to really make a statement by playing LSU on Saturday, while either Georgia or South Carolina will drop a game back this weekend, as they play each other in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina then goes to LSU. Florida ends the month playing South Carolina and Georgia back-to-back, but both games are in the state of Florida.

Gurley and Marshall are a reliable duo

September, 19, 2012
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Todd Gurley and Keith MarshallAP Photo, Getty ImagesGeorgia running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have been a breath of fresh air at the position.

ATHENS, Ga. – To say that Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon is relieved to see the work true freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have put in is downplaying the significance of their contributions.

For a position that has been so snake bitten the last few years, these two have brought encouragement back to the running back position with their play and their attitudes.

“Relieving is a bit of an understatement,” McClendon said with an enormous smile.

Through three games, they’ve combined for 458 rushing yards and five touchdowns, with Gurley leading the team with 276 of those yards and four scores. But as their fame grows, so does their humility, which is very refreshing to McClendon.

It’s also helps that they’re perfectionists. Their individual skill is unmistakable, but their obsession with correcting and improving the small things has tremendously helped their development.

“Being consistent with all the small stuff is one thing that’s helped those guys to get in the position to make those big runs,” McClendon said. “Obviously, their ability takes over, but their attention to detail is uncanny for the being as young as they are.”

It can be difficult for young players to grasp the importance of fundamentals, especially when they’re used to just grabbing the ball and going. But Gurley and Marshall are different. Their willingness to excel in all areas have helped them become that much more reliable at a position that has seen a truckload of talent disappear over the years.

With former starters like Washaun Ealey, Caleb King and Isaiah Crowell leaving the program within the last year because of off-field issues, there was fear that Gurley and Marshall would become statistics instead of players.

Fortunately for Georgia’s staff, the freshmen had other plans.

“We’re just trying to do the right thing and hope none of that happens to us,” Gurley said.

So, for the first time in a while, Georgia has a backfield it can completely rely on. With Ken Malcome, who opened the season as the starter, banged up, more has been put on the freshmen, and they’ve responded without nerves or hesitation.

“There’s nothing to really be nervous about because we know what to do,” Marshall said.

Center David Andrews has been thoroughly impressed with the kids, as well. He said blocking for them is much easier because they’re both smart and talented.

This offense has seen a significant increase in big plays from the backfield with Gurley and Marshall. Last year, the longest run from a true Georgia running back was a 29-yarder by Crowell.

This year, Gurley and Marshall have combined to rush for seven runs of 20-or-more yards. Gurley has runs of 55, 44 and 38 to go along with a 100-yard kickoff return that went for a touchdown.

“They’re two special guys. There’s no doubt about it,” Andrews said. “We just need them to stay healthy because they’re definitely reliable guys.”

They’re also good friends and roommates, which Gurley said helps them become even better players. Even though they’re fighting for the starting spot at the same position, Gurley said their time together away from the field helps them on it. They pick each other’s brains, give advice and go over technique.

“We have a good relationship, which is hard to come across for people at the same position and are competing (for the starting spot),” Gurley said.

When they have down time, they lighten the mood by playing H.O.R.S.E. in their dorm with a mini basketball hoop, which Gurley says he dominates regularly.

While Gurley has the edge in mini-ball, he wouldn’t be the same without Marshall on the field. The two complement each other with their running styles, as Gurley is the pounder and Marshall is the speedster. It not only frees them up for breathers, but it helps the offense, expanding what it can do.

Both still have a ways to go, but for the first time in a while, the Bulldogs can rely on their backfield to help guide this offense.

Instant analysis: Georgia 56, FAU 20

September, 15, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Although Florida Atlantic (1-2) kept things close for most of the first half, No. 7 Georgia (3-0) efficiently pulled away for a 56-20 win to achieve a 3-0 start for the first time since 2008.


It was over when: A six-touchdown favorite, Georgia led just 28-14 at halftime but scored two quick touchdowns in the third quarter -- on a 36-yard Arthur Lynch catch and a 38-yard Todd Gurley run -- to end any thought of an FAU upset.

Game ball goes to: Gurley and Keith Marshall. The two freshmen both rushed for more than 100 yards, marking the first time since last year’s Auburn game (Isaiah Crowell and Carlton Thomas) that two Bulldog backs both broke the 100-yard barrier and the first time since 2004 against Vanderbilt (Danny Ware and Thomas Brown) that two freshmen accomplished the feat. Marshall finished with 10 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown, and Gurley ran 10 times for 111 yards and a score.

Stat of the game: 713. Without injured All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, Georgia’s defense didn’t have its best night. But the offense had no such issues, rolling up 713 yards of total offense in the blowout victory. That broke the school single-game record for total offense -- previously 667 yards -- set in 1993 against Southern Mississippi.

Turning point: It was only a 21-14 game when Georgia’s Michael Bennett caught a 67-yard touchdown pass with 1:34 left in the second quarter to give the Bulldogs a two-touchdown halftime lead.

Record performances: In addition to the total offense record, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray set a new career high with 342 passing yards on 14-for-19 passing. Marshall and Gurley’s rushing yardage set new career highs, and Bennett (four catches for 110 yards) and Lynch (3 for 73) both had career-best receiving numbers. Florida Atlantic also set a new mark for most yards allowed, breaking the previous record of 651 against Troy in 2009.
LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. knows exactly what Georgia is going through.

Last season, he watched an extremely talented Tigers team deal with a myriad of distractions during their national title run. Even though LSU made it to the big game, Beckham said the path taken was extremely tiresome at times.

“It sucks that you have to wait all that time for the season to actually get started, but you have to do things to keep yourself out of trouble,” Beckham said. “If it’s an extra workout or staying with teammates, you have to do it.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comDespite a tumultuous couple of months, the Bulldogs had "a very productive and great offseason," Aaron Murray said.
Georgia needed that advice long ago, as the Bulldogs ran into a rash of off-field trouble this spring that leaked over into the summer. What made matters worse was the fact that key starters were involved:

  • Cornerback Sanders Commings was charged with domestic violence/simple battery on Jan. 21. Corner Branden Smith was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession during spring break.
  • All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree were suspended for reportedly failing drug tests.
  • This summer running back Isaiah Crowell was dismissed after he was arrested and charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone, a felony count of altered identification mark and a misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon.
  • Potential starting linebacker Chase Vasser will serve a two-game suspension following his DUI arrest in May .

Senior defensive end Abry Jones was extremely bothered by the off-field garbage. As things piled up, his patience began to dissolve as he watched a team with so much talent risk throwing everything away with humiliating off-field transgressions.

“It’s real frustrating,” Jones said, “but at the end of the day, when you see people who can’t really control themselves off the field [you realize] it was people who weren’t really in it for the whole team the whole time.”

The Bulldogs are now hoping to take a chapter from LSU’s playbook and make an SEC title run while ignoring the noise surrounding them.

“The off-field distractions are very unfortunate and the things that happened to those guys are very unfortunate,” senior receiver Tavarres King said. “But we’re keeping the main thing the main thing, and that’s winning ballgames, progressing as a team and getting better.

“It’s pretty frustrating, but you get a hold of those guys and you bring them back.”

Getting better and focusing began when the spring nonsense brought things to a boiling point inside Georgia’s locker room. The coaches were flustered and players felt betrayed. That’s when quarterback Aaron Murray and some of the other veterans stepped in to rally the team together.

Murray said the players held multiple meetings in which they discussed how they were wasting the riches in front of them. The silliness not only embarrassed the program but it would eventually keep the Bulldogs from another SEC run if it didn’t stop.

The more meetings they had, Murray said, the more focused and cautious players became away from the field. A real sense of urgency fell over the team, Murray said.

Even after Crowell’s arrest and subsequent dismissal, Murray said players kept moving and had an extremely productive offseason.

“We just want to go out there and play,” he said. “It’s been a long offseason, but it’s been a very productive and great offseason. Guys have worked hard and they just want to go out there and play football.

“It’s definitely been the most successful summer that I’ve been a part of because of the amount of work everyone put in and the amount of time [people put in]. Everyone was extremely focused and understood the goals that we had and were ready to do what was needed to accomplish those.”

Now, it’s time to see how this team reacts when the meat of the season arrives and players get antsy. Games start taking a toll and players need release. How will this team respond?

Maybe the Dawgs should take some advice from a former teammate and someone who witnessed a similar situation in 2011.

“They’ve been through a lot this offseason,” said LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was dismissed from Georgia in April of 2010. “It’s a lot of guys that I know [who got in trouble] and I played with them. They just have to keep focused and stay tough. People are going to say things that they want to say about them -- just like what I went through. You just have to stand by your beliefs and know that you’re capable of doing it.”

With its personnel, Georgia is totally capable of making another run to Atlanta, if not further. But this team has to overcome the distractions that turned their offseason into a circus away from the field.

Coach Mark Richt knows it will be a challenge, but he also believes that he has the right guys to get the job done.

“We got a bunch of awesome guys that are working their tail off for a tremendous season and a tremendous outcome and those are the guys I’m focusing the most on right now,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to let what happened slow them down.”

Video: SEC conference preview

August, 20, 2012
8/20/12
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Kirk Herbstreit, Todd Blackledge and Scott Van Pelt preview the SEC in 2012.
It's as if Georgia just can't escape off-field storylines during the offseason.

First, we saw the spring arrests of cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Branden Smith. Then, safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree reportedly failed drug tests. Commings is set to serve a two-game suspension, while the others are likely to miss time as well this fall.

Oh, and then there was the whole Isaiah Crowell incident that left the Bulldogs without its starting running back entering fall camp.

[+] EnlargeUGA tackle Kolton Houston
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comThe Bulldogs will be without their No. 1 right tackle, Kolton Houston, until an anabolic steroid leaves his system.
Then, came Thursday's events. One incident could be classified as bad luck, as redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Kolton Houston was ruled ineligible because he again tested positive for a steroid he was given after he underwent shoulder surgery before enrolling at Georgia in 2010.

The other? Well, it was another suspension, as Mark Richt announced that potential starting linebacker Chase Vasser will serve a two-game suspension to begin the year following his DUI arrest in May in Atlanta.

While the latter has to infuriate Richt, Houston's situation must be frustrating. Houston, who won the starting right tackle spot this spring, is still testing positive for an anabolic steroid, 19-norandrosterone, that Georgia's medical staff says he unknowingly took after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2009. Georgia's staff has continued to test Houston since he first tested positive for the steroid in April 2010 and insists that he hasn't used the drug again.

Unfortunately, enough of the drug still remains in his system. Georgia pleaded its case to have the NCAA make an exception for Houston, but the NCAA said no way.

"He's been tested probably more times than anybody in the history of college football," Richt told reporters at Georgia's preseason media day Thursday. "We're 100 percent certain he has not continued to take this thing, but it's just never gotten far enough out of his system for him to be declared eligible to play."

Added Georgia associate athletic director for sports medicine Ron Courson: "My hope is to restore his eligibility as soon as we can. ... We feel like we're so close," Courson said. "He's served his penalty. Let's not quibble about two or three anagrams. There's no performance-enhancing aspect. He's paid his due."

Unfortunately, the NCAA can't make an exception for Houston. He's already escaped a lifetime ban after his second positive test, and while you have to feel for Houston, making an exception for him would open up a new can of worms for the NCAA. The NCAA doesn't want to have to deal with similar cases each year because you never know which ones could be true or fabiricated.

I'm not saying Houston's is fabricated, but if he were allowed to play, what's to stop other athletes from experimenting to see if they can use a similar story to slip by the NCAA?

It also means that Georgia's line, which wasn't in the best shape exiting spring, has more concerns to work through. Though Houston had yet to play a down for the Bulldogs, he was still viewed as one of Georgia's top linemen. Richt said sophomore Watts Dantzler now moves into the starting right tackle spot. The bottom line is that this line has to accelerate its development and get some of those youngsters more prepared.

While Houston's situation is out of Richt's hands, he has to make sure that ones like Vasser's stop. This team has too much to lose and can't let boneheaded incidents slow it down.

Georgia has one of stricter discipline policies in the league, but maybe Richt has to do more because you have to wonder if some of these players don't care. If it's so strict, why do off-field incidents continue to pile up in Athens? You could argue that law enforcement there is a bit stricter, but at the end of the day it's the athletes who make these decisions.

I wouldn't blame Richt if he went to bed with his cell phone off.

Georgia has to stop the silliness or its season will be a major disappointment and, unfortunately, Richt will have to shoulder most of the blame from fans.

One good reason: Missouri

July, 27, 2012
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Our "One good reason" series continues with one of the SEC's new members -- the Missouri Tigers.

Good reasons:
Let's see what might be in store for the Tigers in their first year in the SEC:

Missouri will have the SEC's East's best offense: The Tigers have solid balance, talent and experience.

Sure, the Tigers are coming into the SEC sporting one of those flashy spread offenses. It's an offense that had been quite successful in the Big 12, but these defenses are a different breed in SEC country. Well, Missouri isn't too worried about all of that talk. The Tigers aren't bringing their offense over without some experience to go with it. Quarterback James Franklin might be the league's best dual-theat quarterback and the coaching staff is very excited about the weapons he'll be throwing to, starting with reliable senior T.J. Moe and junior deep threats Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington. Oh, and there's that true freshman Dorial Green-Beckham, who should be pretty decent as well. So Missouri's offensive line might be a little undersized for the SEC's liking and three starters from last year are gone. To the Tigers those two things mean very little because they technically return an entire line that has starting experience and they are very comfortable with the weight their linemen are at. This line wasn't much bigger last year, and Missouri was still first in the Big 12 in rushing and 12th nationally in total offense. Running back Henry Josey might not be back this season, but Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy appear more than ready to fill in.

Missouri is facing new defenses, yes, but the SEC East will have to adjust to the Tigers as well. The spread has worked before in the SEC, just look at Florida under Urban Meyer -- minus 2010. And the other offenses in the SEC still have questions. Georgia's running game is filled with questions now that Isaiah Crowell is gone. Florida's is loaded with unproven players, and South Carolina still has to see if Connor Shaw will truly be a pass-first quarterback and if running back Marcus Lattimore will be 100 percent. Tennessee will likely have the division's best passing game, but what about the running game? It was awful last year.

The Tigers insist they know what they're getting out of their offense because there is good experience across the board and the talent isn't too shabby.

Why it won't: There are some pretty good defenses in the East.

While the Tigers are very confident about their offense, they'll have to tangle with some pretty good defenses this fall. South Carolina, Georgia and Florida all ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense last year, while Vanderbilt ranked 18th and Tennessee ranked 27th. Vandy might have the toughest time duplicating last year's production, as the Commodores are replacing some key defensive starters, but the other units are expected to be better this fall, and that has to be a little of a concerning for the Tigers.

For all of the speed that Missouri says it has on offense, the defenses the Tigers will face in the East might be just as fast. Georgia and Florida both return 10 defensive starters, Tennessee returns nine, Vanderbilt returns seven, and South Carolina returns six. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel says he doesn't want to change much about his offense, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the Tigers have to go under center more or attach one of those tight ends to the line in order to give Franklin and that backfield more time.

One good reason: Georgia

July, 23, 2012
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Our "One good reason" series is back, and we're looking at the Georgia Bulldogs.

Good reasons:
Let's see what the Bulldogs can do in 2012:

Georgia will win the SEC: The Bulldogs' defense is loaded.

The Bulldogs have some elite talent coming back on the defensive side of the ball. Ten starters return from a group that ranked fifth nationally in total defense last season. Sure, this team will likely be without four key starters -- safety Bacarri Rambo, cornerbacks Branden Smith and Sanders Commings, and linebacker Alec Ogletree -- at the beginning of the season because of suspension, but it's not like the Bulldogs lack capable bodies to fill in early. Malcolm Mitchell, who played cornerback in high school, moved over to corner this spring and should have an immediate impact, while sophomore Damian Swann has the potential to be a budding star, and he'll get his chance to show it early. Veteran Shawn Williams is still back at safety, as well.

And look at that front seven. Jarvis Jones leads a talented, experienced linebacking corps after being arguably the best at his position last year, racking up 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. The scary thing is he insists he'll be even better in 2012. What helps take some pressure off of him is the Bulldogs feel they have another solid pass rusher in Cornelius Washington, who moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. Fellow end Abry Jones had a very solid spring, while nose guards John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers should absolutely swallow up the middle. Getting Ogletree back will make this front group even better.

This group is big, athletic, fast and feels even more comfortable in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme. Another top-10 finish is expected.

Why it won't: There too many questions with the running game.

Isaiah Crowell was never spectacular during his very short Georgia career, but he when he was at 100 percent and was all in for the Dawgs, he was the best option at running back. After making strides this spring he was dismissed in June after his arrest on felony gun charges. Now, the Bulldogs will turn to senior Richard Samuel, who has moved back to running back and has 768 career rushing yards, and a handful of youngsters, starting with sophomore Ken Malcome and frosh Keith Marshall. Malcome was used sparringly last season, but had a very productive spring, leaving as the co-starter at running back. Marshall enrolled early with a load of hype, but might be used more on the edge than up the middle. The Bulldogs are also hoping to get a lot out of incoming freshman Todd Gurley and junior Brandon Harton returns as well.

Right now, we don't know what Georgia will get out of this group. There is depth, but none of these backs are truly proven. Georgia ranked 49th in rushing last year with Crowell in the lineup, but in the biggest game of the year -- the SEC title game against LSU -- the Bulldogs mustered just 78 rushing yards -- most of which came in garbage time -- with Malcome leading the way with 37 yards.

Georgia will need much more than that to get to Atlanta and get out of the Georgia Dome with a win. The good news is that only two of Georgia's 2012 opponents ranked within the top 40 in rushing defense last year, in Missouri (30th) and Vanderbilt (36th), but expect Auburn, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee to be better against the run this fall. If the Bulldogs can't get the ground game going on a consistent basis and against better defenses, an SEC title will be hard to come by.

DawgNation links: SEC media days

July, 19, 2012
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SEC media days -- David Ching writes: Taking the podium for Georgia at SEC media days Thursday, Mark Richt set to addressing -- right off the bat, of course -- the Isaiah Crowell dismissal.

Video: An interview with Georgia receiver Tavarres King.

AND

Kipp Adams writes: Insider Already one of the hot names at UGA in the 2014 prospect class, an impressive showing at Mark Richt Camp and Dawg Night earned Herschel Walker’s nephew, tight end Milan Richard, an offer from the Bulldogs.

Adams: Insider Four-star defensive lineman and ESPN 300 member Jay Woods has whittled down his dozens of offers to a top six, and it’s no surprise that the in-state Georgia Bulldogs are right up there.

Ching: Around the Hedges in 80 Days -- 44 days to kickoff Insider
There is a reason every major recruiting service ranked incoming UGA freshman Jordan Jenkins among this year’s top 70 prospects: His relentless motor and quick first step seem to predict stardom, particularly once he refines his technique.

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