<
>

Bulldogs do just enough to keep rolling

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- No matter who was speaking, the sentiment was the same among Georgia's players and coaches after Saturday's 33-28 win against Vanderbilt.

"We definitely feel like we survived one," Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said.

Punter Drew Butler was talking about the Bulldogs' critical special teams errors but could have been discussing the team's play in general when he said, "We have enough talent where if we just do what we're supposed to do, we'll be able to take care of business. Obviously we haven't been doing that, so we've just got to shore up some of those things."

Even if the Bulldogs (5-2, 4-1 SEC) played another error-filled game, they managed to escape Nashville with a narrow victory and enter their bye week on a five-game winning streak, with a matchup ahead against slumping rival Florida (4-3, 2-3).

The open week comes at a convenient time for Georgia, which hopes to be back at full speed for the first time since the season opener when it meets the Gators on Oct. 29 in Jacksonville.

The Bulldogs expect to have leading receiver Malcolm Mitchell back from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the Vanderbilt game, while Alec Ogletree will return to practice this week for the first time since breaking his foot in the opener against Boise State.

Just as important, the coaches and players get a bit of a mental break this week after grinding through a month of preseason camp and the first seven weeks of the regular season.

"I think just having the open date right now is very healthy for us," Georgia coach Mark Richt said during his Sunday evening teleconference. "We need it. Our coaches need it. I need it myself, personally. I'm relaxing today, getting a little bit of rest.

"We're going to try our very best to begin our game planning of Florida without wearing our guys out. I really want this week to be one where we get a couple of really good lifts in and we don't get too much hitting going on. I just don't want to set anybody back."

The healthier the Bulldogs can be for the stretch run, the better their odds appear to be in the SEC East race, as the other contenders have not been as fortunate.

Despite often struggling with sloppy play and a regular inability to salt away victories once it builds a big lead, Georgia remains atop the Eastern Division standings with South Carolina, both with a 4-1 league mark.

However, the Gamecocks' offense is in shambles, having lost superstar tailback Marcus Lattimore to a season-ending knee injury suffered in Saturday's win against Mississippi State, only a few days after veteran quarterback Stephen Garcia was dismissed from the team.

Florida has lost three consecutive games -- to Alabama, LSU and Auburn -- after losing starting quarterback John Brantley during the loss to Alabama. The Gators' offense struggled mightily without Brantley, with freshmen Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett taking most of the snaps, but Florida coach Will Muschamp said after Saturday's loss to Auburn that he hopes to have Brantley back against Georgia.

"It's much more problematic for our defensive staff," Richt said of the mystery concerning the Gators' starting quarterback. "All we can do is try to see what's been done. Who knows when we'll know who's going to play quarterback? It's going to be very difficult to know. All we can do is, we do have video on all of them, and we've got to see if there's a huge difference between what they're trying to accomplish with him."

Richt knows the personnel losses were devastating blows for South Carolina and Florida, but he wouldn't speculate on how they might affect the teams' fortunes moving forward. The Gamecocks still hold a tiebreaker edge over the Bulldogs because of a head-to-head victory, so he knows Georgia must continue winning to keep pace in the division race.

"We've absolutely got to keep winning, I know that," Richt said. "Somebody's still got to beat South Carolina. No one [in the East] has been able to do that yet. I don't know what's going to happen. I know that it's hard to lose a player such as a quarterback or one like Lattimore, who's one of the finest players in America. That's got to affect you to a certain degree, but that doesn't mean you can't still win."

Notes
Richt said he already has spoken to everyone involved in Saturday night's postgame yelling match that was caught by Fox Sports television cameras. Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin yelled at each other before being separated by a law enforcement officer and players. "When you look at the big picture, it certainly wasn't a pretty scene, but it really could have been a lot worse than it was. I thought coaches on each side and even some players did a good job of just trying to keep the peace and get everybody off the field without anything really horrible happening." ... Richt said he has not heard from anyone in the SEC office concerning the chippy play against Vanderbilt, including nose guard Kwame Geathers being flagged for a personal foul for punching a Commodores lineman after a play: "I've not been contacted in any way on those issues and hopefully we won't." ... Richt said defensive end DeAngelo Tyson suffered a sprained MCL against Vanderbilt but continued to play and should be healthy for the Florida game. Safety Bacarri Rambo suffered a foot injury at the end of the game, which might keep him from practicing early this week but should not affect his status for the Florida game, Richt said.

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.