Commentary

Dawgs find other weapons at WR

With several players banged up, freshmen and walk-ons show ability to make plays

Updated: November 3, 2011, 1:51 PM ET
By David Ching | DawgNation

ATHENS, Ga. -- When walk-on receiver Rhett McGowan entered last weekend's game against Florida, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had one goal.

"When he got out there on the field, I'm like, 'I'm going to Rhett. I don't care what's happening, I'm going to Rhett,' " Murray joked.

Luckily for Murray, his buddy made him look good. McGowan broke through press coverage at the line of scrimmage and was wide open when Murray hit him with an 11-yard pass that extended a third-quarter drive.

It was a fairly insignificant play overall, but McGowan's catch serves as an example of the contributions each member of a razor-thin receiving corps made in the Bulldogs' 24-20 win against the rival Gators.

[+] EnlargeChris Conley
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comChris Conley's fourth-quarter grab of an 18-yard pass to help seal the win was one of the Florida game's most memorable moments.
With leading receiver Malcolm Mitchell and backups Israel Troupe and Rantavious Wooten all missing the game, the Bulldogs relied on walk-ons such as McGowan and Taylor Bradberry to relieve the regulars. They eventually salted away the win when true freshman Chris Conley made a leaping grab of an 18-yarder to extend their final drive and keep the ball away from the Florida offense.

"A lot of guys who people weren't expecting to make plays were in there making plays, and that just shows how hard they worked," Murray said.

The most memorable plays by Georgia receivers were certainly the leaping fourth-down touchdown catches by Michael Bennett and Tavarres King, which helped the Bulldogs stay alive in a game in which they struggled early.

"There were two guys covering the crap out of them, and Murray put it in the vicinity, and they made the plays," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

Bennett's catch just before halftime might have been the biggest play of the game, as his 20-yard touchdown grab on fourth-and-5 trimmed the Gators' lead to 17-10 and paved the way for the Bulldogs' comeback.

Because of a series of first-half mistakes, the Bulldogs easily could have trailed by a greater margin, but Bennett's catch made the deficit much more manageable.

"Being down by 14, I just knew our team needed points," Bennett said. "To go up and make that catch, it really meant a lot to me -- all the work I've put in and all the routes I ran over the summer and everything, it sort of paid off. So it feels great. And with Malcolm being out, we knew we needed to step up, and that's what we did."

The situation entering the game was far from ideal.

Mitchell -- the freshman who quickly emerged as the Bulldogs' top deep threat -- tried during the week to return to practice after injuring his hamstring two games earlier against Tennessee, but he aggravated the injury.

Georgia brought only four scholarship receivers -- King, Bennett, Conley and Marlon Brown -- to Jacksonville, as well as a trio of walk-ons.

"I've had a couple games like this where I've been preparing during the week, and they were telling me to be ready and study my playbook and know the plays, and I'm ready each week," said McGowan, who previously appeared in games against Coastal Carolina and Ole Miss. "This is just the first week they actually put me in."

None of the receivers posted huge numbers -- King was the team leader with 44 receiving yards and a touchdown, followed by Conley's 38 yards on three grabs -- but five wideouts made at least one reception.

King and Bennett's touchdowns will be the all-time memorable plays from the game, but the receivers' contributions otherwise were subtle.

Brown made a tackle-breaking 5-yard reception on third-and-5 in the first quarter to extend a drive that ended with a field goal. McGowan's catch came on a drive that helped flip field position. On the Bulldogs' go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, Murray went to Conley on third-and-10 at the Florida 35, drawing a pass interference penalty that led to a first down and eventually a touchdown.

"It was a small group and it sort of fell to us, the task of the night," Conley said. "I'm really proud of the guys for stepping up -- T.K., Bennett, Marlon, Rhett, all the guys. All the guys contributed and made good plays and were consistent all night."

Conley was ticketed for a redshirt early in the season before Wooten suffered a concussion in a car wreck, which opened the door for the freshman to play. Conley made his debut four games into the season against Ole Miss and has quietly contributed since then.

There was nothing quiet about his leaping grab on the final drive, however, as the first down he earned at Florida's 18-yard line all but assured that Georgia would be able to run out the clock and beat its hated rival.

Georgia's receivers said it serves as a reminder that even without a superstar such as A.J. Green or a budding star such as Mitchell the Bulldogs have weapons in the passing game who can make plays that matter.

"All the guys were sort of upset that when Malcolm was out, there was a big fear that our passing game would sort of drop off," Conley said. "We think the receiving corps is very talented, and each of the guys has different attributes, so that when Malcolm wasn't able to go, we felt like there were other guys who could step up and contribute.

"We're hoping for a speedy recovery for him to have him back, because his skills add to the group, too."

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