Georgia Bulldogs: Brandon Harton

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 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.”

Post-spring position review: RB

April, 16, 2013
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Editor’s note: Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each of Georgia’s position groups at the end of spring practice. Today we examine the running backs:

J.J. Green
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNNewcomer J.J. Green, an early enrollee at UGA, turned a lot of heads this spring and could provide a nice change of pace in the backfield.
Returning players/stats: Tailback: Todd Gurley, So. (12 starts in 2012, 222 carries, 1,385 yards, 17 TDs); Keith Marshall, So. (One start, 117-759, 8 TDs), Brandon Harton, Jr. (8-20). Fullback: Merritt Hall, So. (6 starts, 2-10); Quayvon Hicks, So. (no carries)

Newcomers: J.J. Green, Fr. (ESPN’s No. 58 CB in 2013 class. Enrolled in January); A.J. Turman, Fr. (No. 22 RB. Expected to enroll this summer); Brendan Douglas, Fr. (No. 4 FB. Expected to enroll this summer)

(Read full post)

Dawgs Snapshot 2013: Brendan Douglas 

February, 15, 2013
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With respect to 2013 national signing day, DawgNation's Radi Nabulsi is breaking down every commitment in the Bulldogs' 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Running back Brendan Douglas (Augusta, Ga./Aquinas) 5-foot-11, 202 pounds

Committed: Feb. 1

ESPN.com grade: 70. Three-star prospect.


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Position breakdown: Wrapup 

January, 29, 2013
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Editor’s note: Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve taken a look at Georgia’s depth chart and its recruiting efforts by position. We’ll wrap up today by discussing who we’ll be watching this season and the areas Georgia must address between now and signing day, plus over the next couple of years:

2012 depth chart: Georgia returns 15 players who started the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska -- 10 on offense, three on defense and both kickers -- led by quarterback Aaron Murray, tailback Todd Gurley and the entire offensive line. The Bulldogs lost three defensive underclassmen -- All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and nose guard Kwame Geathers -- to the NFL draft and a total of 12 key defensive contributors.

Who’s ready to move up for more playing time?: The defense obviously must reload this season, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is quick to point out that the group might lack experience, but it has plenty of talent. Nose guard will be one of the key positions to watch this spring, with Jonathan Taylor, John Atkins (Thomson, Ga./Hargrave Military) and Chris Mayes (Griffin, Ga./Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) all competing for playing time. Inside linebacker -- where early enrollees Ryne Rankin (Orlando, Fla./East River) and Reggie Carter (Snellville, Ga./South Gwinnett) are already in the fold -- and defensive back are also positions of interest. We’ll be interested to see whether rising sophomores Sheldon Dawson and Josh Harvey-Clemons can step into leading roles during the spring.

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Dawgs Snapshot 2013: A.J. Turman 

January, 17, 2013
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To gear up for 2013 national signing day, DawgNation's Radi Nabulsi is breaking down every commitment in the Bulldogs' 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Running back A.J. Turman, Orlando. Fla./Boone | 6-foot, 198 pounds

Committed: November 13, 2012

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UGA midseason report card: RBs 

October, 9, 2012
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Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is halfway over and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We’ll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps the biggest feel-good story in Georgia’s first six games was the performance by the Bulldogs’ new 1-2 punch at tailback from freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

Even after a disappointing night for Georgia’s offense last Saturday against South Carolina, Gurley (81 carries for 575 yards, nine TDs) and Marshall (64-465, 5 TDs) still sit fourth and 10th, respectively, among the SEC’s rushing leaders. Considering that the position was one of Georgia’s greatest uncertainties last season and one of its biggest question marks entering the fall, that’s a heck of a place to be.

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Notebook: UGA tries to solve punt issues 

September, 26, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Malcolm Mitchell is essentially a rookie punt returner -- and the Georgia sophomore admits he has made some rookie mistakes that could have proven costly.

Mitchell says the trick to his new responsibility is to quickly determine when to rein in his natural aggressiveness and when the smart move is to play it safe with a fair catch and hand the ball off to Aaron Murray and the offense.

“It’s just something to get used to,” said Mitchell, who is averaging 7 yards per return -- including a long of 22 yards on his first opportunity last week against Vanderbilt. “Of course when you’ve got an opportunity to make a play happen, you want to take it, regardless of what the situation is. What you’ve just got to know, punt return is a job that’s either you take it home or get as much yardage as you can or you fair catch it and get the offense on the field so they can do that.”

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt said he saw some good things, but he didn’t see what he wanted when Georgia staged its second preseason scrimmage Wednesday afternoon at Sanford Stadium.

“I thought we looked like a pretty good team,” Richt said. “But pretty good is about 8-4. I think that’s pretty good. Maybe 9-3 if you’re lucky. But we’d like to do better than 8-4. That’s about how we played today. It wasn’t just awful, but was it great? No, it wasn’t great.”

The Bulldogs got standout performances from freshman tailback Todd Gurley (eight carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns, including a 66-yard scoring run) and receiver Chris Conley (four catches for 114 yards and a 70-yard touchdown), but Richt also pointed out a number of sloppy plays.

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DN Roundtable: Counting on walk-ons 

August, 15, 2012
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On Sunday, Mark Richt announced that seven former walk-on players would receive a one-year scholarship for the coming school year. Cornerback Blake Sailors and running back Brandon Harton had received scholarships last year, and those were renewed by Richt. Fullback Merritt Hall, wide receiver Rhett McGowan, safety Connor Norman, linebacker Kosta Vavlas and cornerback Luis Capella were awarded scholarships for the first time. With only 71 players on scholarship, Richt had plenty of room to add walk-on players. With Georgia’s history of productive walk-ons, the question arises:

“Which of these former walk-on players will contribute the most this season?”

David Ching: It definitely looks to be Merritt Hall. He's the only member of that group who's occupying a starting position at the moment, so that kind of gives it away. Even if he does not start throughout the season, I expect him to contribute beyond a special teams role this season. You could probably say that about a few other players on this list -- McGowan, Norman and possibly Sailors jump out at me first -- but Hall seems to be the safest bet at this point.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- A moment of great celebration for most of Georgia’s football team actually has a bit of a downside for Bulldogs coach Mark Richt.

Richt announced during a team meeting on Saturday night that five walk-ons -- cornerback Luis Capella, fullback Merritt Hall, receiver Rhett McGowan, safety Connor Norman and linebacker Kosta Vavlas -- would receive one-year scholarships for the first time and that scholarships for former walk-ons Blake Sailors and Brandon Harton would be renewed for another year.

While that was an exciting moment for the new scholarship players, Richt said he also knew it was one of great disappointment for other Georgia walk-ons.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia coach Mark Richt confirmed after Friday’s practice that true freshman quarterback Faton Bauta is likely in line for a redshirt season this fall.

Bauta is the newcomer in a deep group of quarterbacks that includes All-SEC starter Aaron Murray, junior Hutson Mason, redshirt freshman Christian LeMay and walk-on Parker Welch, so the incoming freshman has not been getting many practice reps this preseason.

“It’s just a matter of learning, and sometimes it is harder to learn when you’re trying to learn with a [small] amount of opportunities,” Richt said. “But we’re not expecting him to have to play for us this year. More than likely he’ll redshirt.”

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s staff didn’t waste any time trying to forge a bond between the new kicker-punter tandem to replace Blair Walsh and Drew Butler.

When freshman kicker Marshall Morgan and punter Collin Barber arrived on campus this summer, they roomed together on campus and struck a fast friendship.

“Me and Marshall have become really good friends,” Barber said after Thursday’s practice. “We’ve roomed together and we see each other every day and depend on each other. We’ve gotten to where we can depend on each other and hold each other accountable.”

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Editor’s note: With Georgia set to open preseason camp on Thursday, DawgNation will break down each position group and the storylines to watch in August. After examining Georgia’s offensive and defensive position groups, we complete the series today with the Bulldogs’ special teams units.


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Editor’s note: With Georgia set to open preseason camp on Aug. 2, DawgNation will break down each position group and the storylines to watch in August. We focus today on the running backs after featuring the quarterbacks Monday.

Considering that former walk-on Brandon Harton is Georgia’s top returning rusher, it seems somewhat surprising that the Bulldogs and their coaches are not more concerned about the state of their running game.


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