Georgia Bulldogs: Brendan Douglas

It’s almost that time. Georgia is scheduled to open spring practice next week.

In previous weeks, we've broken down several players and position groups to watch this spring. As we lead up to the Bulldogs’ first team workout, this week we'll make five predictions related to the Bulldogs' upcoming practices.

Today’s prediction: A.J. Turman impresses at tailback

Let’s not kid ourselves. Turman, a redshirt freshman, isn’t competing for a starting job.

If Todd Gurley (989 rushing yards, 10 TDs last season, plus 441 receiving and six more scores) is healthy -- or even whatever approximation of full health he operated at for most of last season -- he will not only be Georgia’s starting tailback, he’ll rank among the better backs in the nation.

But Gurley isn’t completely healthy right now. Coach Mark Richt said so last week. Neither is Keith Marshall (246 yards in five games), who is returning from an ACL tear suffered midway through last season. Even if they were healthy, Georgia’s coaches know what those two can do. It would be fine to get them some work during spring practice, but this would be an excellent opportunity to give an unproven player such as Turman a chance to show off.

Considering the two star tailbacks’ situations, and that J.J. Green (second on the team with 384 yards, three TDs) has shifted to cornerback, the Bulldogs have few alternatives. Rising sophomore Brendan Douglas (345 yards, three TDs) is still in the mix, but this represents Turman’s first real shot to prove that he’s an SEC back after a hamstring injury during preseason camp relegated him to a redshirt season and scout-team work in 2013.

The bet here is that he turns some heads. After all, Gurley said late last season of Turman that “he’s always getting better from what I see. He always asks me questions like, ‘What do I do on this? What do I do on that?’ and he actually is really like a beast. Y’all will definitely see.”

Turman better start validating Gurley’s prediction now, because he might never get a better chance. Turman is almost guaranteed to get steady work this spring, but there are no guarantees beyond the next month of practices. Gurley and Marshall figure to be back around 100 percent when the Bulldogs open camp in August, and stud signees Sony Michel and Nick Chubb will be on campus by then, as well.

So there’s no way around it, Georgia will have a crowded backfield in the fall. A sluggish spring might mean that Turman becomes the forgotten man in that race. If he impresses -- and we believe he will -- the competition will be all the more interesting when the backfield arrives at full strength in the preseason.

Backfield depth could be new issue

December, 27, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's coaches hesitate to publicly look beyond their Jan. 1 meeting with Nebraska, but they should experience an entirely new problem within the next few months.

For the first time in years -- maybe as far back as 2006, when a loaded backfield prompted coach Mark Richt to redshirt future All-American Knowshon Moreno -- Georgia could actually have too many good tailbacks to take full advantage of everyone's abilities.

[+] EnlargeDouglas
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Brendan Douglas averaged 4.3 yards per rush this season for Georgia.
“There's some great backs here, and it's good to have that many backs that you can roll in there with the different kind of running styles they have,” said Brendan Douglas, who rushed for 337 yards this season as a freshman. “It'll be interesting next year, plus we're getting those two good backs coming in here and we'll just have to see what happens when they get here.”

Those two good backs -- ESPN 300 prospects Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, both of whom rank among the top eight prospects at the position -- have committed to sign with Georgia in February. Presumably they will join a backfield that already includes sophomores Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and freshmen Douglas, J.J. Green and A.J. Turman.

All-SEC honoree Gurley and Marshall were obviously the group's leaders after rushing for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012, but the freshmen entered this season as complete unknowns.

When Ken Malcome opted to transfer after the 2012 season, Georgia's coaches knew they would have to play at least two of the newcomers behind the two returning stars. They couldn't have expected, however, that injuries to Gurley and Marshall would cause them to rely so heavily on Green and Douglas.

“Douglas and Green we were probably going to have to play because of the depth issue,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We were getting those guys ready to play special teams. They probably might not have gotten as many snaps at running back.”

There was a time where the coaches considered playing Turman, as well, but they were able to preserve his redshirt by sticking with Douglas and Green until Gurley returned from a three-game absence to play against Florida on Nov. 2.

Gurley recently described Turman as “a beast” and predicted that he will also make an impact once he wins an opportunity to contribute.

“People know their roles,” Gurley said. “I'm pretty sure guys, just like Turman, he would have loved to have come in and played. Sometimes you've got to know your role and if that's redshirting, then it's getting redshirted. And if not, then just try to do your best to get on the field or keep getting better.”

That's what Green and Douglas accomplished as freshmen, establishing themselves as potentially productive SEC tailbacks should they remain at the position. Both players possess the ability to play elsewhere -- Green at receiver or cornerback and Douglas at fullback -- and said they are willing to play wherever needed, although they consider themselves tailbacks first.

Asked recently about Green, Richt said the coaches also view him as a running back, although his role might someday expand to include some receiving duties, as well. So it appears that even with Michel and Chubb set to join the roster in 2014, the Bulldogs could soon possess tailback depth that will rank among the best in the conference. And with Gurley and Marshall both entering their junior seasons -- meaning they will be eligible to enter the NFL draft after next fall -- now is a good time to reload.

“I don’t know if you can ever have enough backs, and certainly injury is an issue,” Richt said. “Guys that are talented enough to possibly have a three-year career instead of a four-year career, you’ve got to plan for all of those things. I don’t know what decisions guys will make down the road, but certainly we’ve got some very talented backs that will have some decisions to make, as well. That’s all part of the reason to continue to recruit great players.”

Michel and Chubb have certainly earned that distinction within recruiting circles, so this could legitimately become Georgia's most talented backfield since the 2006 bunch that included future NFL players Moreno, Danny Ware, Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown.

Green said he, Douglas and Turman will show the newcomers the ropes just like Marshall and Gurley did, but predicted that a fierce competition for playing time will await the freshmen once they arrive on campus.

“Competing at practice, who wants it more? Working out, who wants it more? That's why you have an offseason. Who's going to want it more?” said Green, who is second on the team with 365 rushing yards. “Who's going to step in there and learn the playbook? That's all it's going to take: who wants it more?

“You watch Keith, you watch Todd. You're going to want to be just like them. You're going to try to ball out.”

Turnover common for Ball, McClendon

December, 26, 2013
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Pardon Bryan McClendon if he took a pessimistic approach before the fall even arrived, but his five seasons as Georgia's running backs coach have permanently ingrained that attitude into his coaching outlook.

McClendon, who each season has juggled his lineups because of an assortment of injuries and off-the-field issues, predicted to All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley before the season that his sophomore year would not be all breakaway touchdown runs and soaring dives into the end zone. Those moments came, too, but McClendon's prediction proved to be correct when Gurley injured himself in the opener against Clemson and later missed three-and-a-half games with an ankle injury sustained against LSU.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley, who has rushed for 903 yards this season, has been hobbled by an ankle injury this season.
“That's something that we've known and we talked about before the year: it's going to be something,” McClendon said. “We didn't know what it was going to be, but it's going to be something -- just by the position and the style of play that he plays. But I do know that he probably won't be 100 percent [again] until after the year.”

It's always been something for McClendon's players -- and for fellow UGA assistant Tony Ball's receivers, as well -- but the coaches and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have proven over time that they are capable of adjusting to the personnel available on a given week.

They've certainly had more than enough practice in that capacity this season.

Gurley and Keith Marshall both missed multiple games at tailback, while freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas also struggled with minor ailments at points. And Ball's wideout group lost Malcolm Mitchell to a torn ACL on the second possession of the season, Justin Scott-Wesley to an ACL at midseason and Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jonathon Rumph for multiple games at points.

The results with a decimated lineup weren't always pretty -- the Bulldogs committed four turnovers in a midseason loss to Missouri and generated just 221 yards of offense in the following week's loss to Vanderbilt -- but Bobo and company found a way to keep Georgia on pace to break the school's scoring record. The Bulldogs are averaging 38.2 ppg this season, just ahead of their record-setting 37.8-ppg average from 2012.

“There was an adjustment period there that we had to go through,” Bobo said. “That Missouri game, we pretty much stayed aggressive, but we kind of turned the ball over a little bit [and had] some timing issues. We tried to slow it a little bit down in the Vanderbilt game and didn't have the results that way, either, and had to go back to the drawing board and the guys responded and answered and came back and played well the rest of the year.”

That they did. Georgia averaged 45.8 ppg over the final four games, even without key players like Marshall, Mitchell, Scott-Wesley and senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who tore his ACL in the home finale against Kentucky. Even with Rantavious Wooten and Rhett McGowan playing bigger roles at receiver and with the freshmen filling in for Gurley and Marshall in the backfield at midseason, the Bulldogs regularly got production out of less heralded players.

“A lot of people went down and kids had to step up and prove they can play. Even a lot of freshmen had to step up and play,” Douglas said. “I just give credit to the coaches for having them ready to go and Coach B-Mac having me and J.J. ready to roll in whenever we needed to.”

McClendon turned 30 earlier this month, but since Mark Richt promoted him from his post as a graduate assistant in 2009, he has dealt with as much roster turnover as a considerably older coach.

It was stressful, McClendon admitted, but it also expedited his development within the profession.

“You learn by hard times,” McClendon said. “You learn by adversity, you learn by when things are not going just peachy. And obviously that's been the case, and I think I've grown tremendously from it.”

His boss agrees.

Richt saw Green rush for 129 yards in an overtime win against Tennessee and witnessed Douglas post 113 yards of offense against Missouri even when they weren't ready to play leading roles just yet. He saw 10 different wideouts make catches over the course of the season, with seven of them finishing with at least 89 yards in a game this fall.

Injuries are of course part of the game, but Georgia's receivers and running backs have dealt with more than their share over the last couple of seasons – and Richt is proud of the way his assistants have coped with those situations.

“[Ball] coaches them all the same and he does a great job of trying to crosstrain players when they're ready for it to make sure if you do have an injury … you've got guys that have got to be moving around. He did a great job,” Richt said. “And McClendon did, too. Bryan, I think he's blossomed into one heck of a coach.

“I just don't like bragging too much about these guys because everybody wants to try to snag them,” Richt chuckled. “So we don't want that to happen.”

UGA redshirt review: defense

December, 20, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia signed a massive 33-man recruiting class in February, and many of those signees -- like Leonard Floyd, Shaq Wiggins, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas -- contributed immediately. Yesterday we reviewed the players who redshirted on offense. Today we move to the defense.

[+] EnlargeDavin Bellamy
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNDavin Bellamy, a former four-star prospect, could work his way into the DL rotation this spring.
John Atkins, Fr., DL
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 119 overall in 2012, No. 11 defensive tackle
This season: The prep school transfer did not seize a role in the defensive line rotation, but impressed coaches and teammates with a promising skill set that could help him play multiple positions in the future.
Veteran's perspective: “John Atkins' footwork is crazy for a big guy. He's like 320 -- we're the same size – and he has amazing footwork and work ethic. He's going to be one of those guys popping off the scene next year.” -- sophomore defensive lineman Chris Mayes

Davin Bellamy, Fr., OLB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 299 overall, No. 25 defensive end
This season: Underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason, but could have played this season according to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham were it not for the emergence of Floyd and Jordan Jenkins at his position.
Veteran's perspective: “Bellamy's a big-bodied kid. I know just from being around him, he has a giant attitude. And when I say that, it's a good thing. He believes in himself and what he can do. He thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, which is the attitude that you have to have when you're playing football because if you don't believe in yourself, nobody will.” -- junior defensive end Ray Drew

Paris Bostick, Fr., ILB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 55 safety
This season: Grantham compares Bostick's skills to those of another converted safety -- former UGA linebacker Alec Ogletree. Bostick suffered a toe injury during the summer and returned to practice during the season.
Veteran's perspective: “Bigger than what most people think -- real big dude now. He's just trying to learn the system and figure out where he's going to fit in at. … He's a real big dude, but he still runs like a safety. He's fast. He's going to be a real good addition to us.” -- junior linebacker Ramik Wilson

Shaquille Fluker, Jr., S
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 36 on Junior College 50, No. 2 safety
This season: Initially set back by an array of physical ailments, Fluker was designated as a redshirt candidate by midseason. He announced this week his plans to transfer in search of playing time.
Coach's perspective: “I can't comment on any medical situation, but everybody wants to play more, obviously, and I hope wherever he goes, he gets to play. I hope he finds a good home. I like him a lot. He's a good kid. I'm very confident we had his best interests at heart the entire time he was here at Georgia and we treated him well.” -- coach Mark Richt

DeAndre Johnson, Fr., DL
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 84 defensive tackle
This season: The youngest defensive lineman on the roster, Johnson needs to have a productive offseason in order to crack a veteran-heavy rotation next season, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a low-pad-level player, just a young guy that's got to build up and get more experience and get comfortable with the game. … I think he'll be able to play the 3-technique as he has to learn the game and progress. For his size, he's pretty shifty, so I think he'll be all right.” -- Mayes

Kennar Johnson, Jr., CB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 4 safety
This season: Injuries slowed Johnson's development early in the season and the coaches opted to redshirt him instead of utilizing another inexperienced player in a youthful secondary.
Veteran's perspective: “KJ is an athlete. He's very fast. It just comes with being able to compete and learning the system. I think he was kind of put in a bad situation coming in playing behind Corey [Moore], playing behind Tray [Matthews], who was here in the spring, and playing behind Josh [Harvey-Clemons] who's been here for two years. … [Johnson and Fluker were] playing behind guys who had already been here that grasped the system very well. That kind of put them behind the 8-ball a little bit.” -- junior cornerback Damian Swann

Shaun McGee, Fr., OLB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 43 defensive end
This season: Capable of playing inside or outside, McGee's development this offseason will establish which of the two spots he plays next fall according to Grantham.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a little bit shorter, but he's very strong. His legs are massive and he can run. He has great speed off the edge, so I see that being one of his best contributions to the team.” -- Drew

Reggie Wilkerson, Fr., CB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 163 overall, No. 15 athlete
This season: Enrolled in January and was on track to contribute this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury during summer workouts.
Veteran's perspective: “Reggie had a pretty good spring and he had a freak injury during the summer doing [pass skeleton drills] and we lost him. But I think he can be a big key and big part of this secondary with what we already have with Sheldon [Dawson], with Shaq and with [Brendan] Langley.” -- Swann

UGA redshirt review: Offense

December, 19, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia signed a massive 33-man recruiting class in February, and many of those signees -- like Leonard Floyd, Shaq Wiggins, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas -- contributed immediately. Over the next two days, we'll review the offensive and defensive signees who redshirted.

Aulden Bynum, Fr., OL
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 47 offensive tackle
This season: Enrolled in January and worked at multiple positions along the offensive line.
Veteran's perspective: “He's not as strong as he wants to be right now, probably has to put on a little more weight. I think that he's also very good naturally just with leverage and feet space and stuff like that.” -- senior offensive guard Chris Burnette

Josh Cardiello, Fr., OL
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 21 offensive guard
This season: Enrolled in January and practiced mostly at left guard and center .
Veteran's perspective: “Cardiello is a really explosive guy, which I like. I think that's really important as an offensive lineman is to be explosive. He has good leverage, knows how to bend his knees and is also deceptively athletic and I think that's going to be good for him in the future.” -- Burnette

Jordan Davis, Fr., TE
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 15 tight end-Y
This season: Wasn't needed with seniors Arthur Lynch and Hugh Williams and sophomore Jay Rome available.
Veteran's perspective: “I think a big thing for him will just be learning the playbook, understanding the playbook, understanding how we want it done here. He's got a body like Jermaine Gresham. He's 6-foot-5-plus. He's about 240-something now, but he could put on 20 pounds easy. And he can run. I think that's one thing that'll be a very big asset of his is he'll be able to run and create space from linebackers and even probably safeties.” -- Lynch

Uriah LeMay, Fr., WR
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 48 wide receiver
This season: Stuck behind a glut of established veteran receivers.
Veteran's perspective: “Redshirt's a really important year. I know it was for me. I wasn't ready to play at all. It was important going into my redshirt freshman year that I had a lot of experience under my belt and it was a lot easier. I've seen improvement throughout his redshirt year and hopefully this spring is going to be big for him to really learn the offense and hopefully contribute next year.” -- junior receiver Michael Bennett

Brice Ramsey, Fr., QB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 115 overall, No. 7 pocket passer
This season: Enrolled in January knowing that a redshirt was extremely likely with Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason sitting atop the depth chart.
Veteran's perspective: “A cannon. That's the first thing you see when you look at Brice: those long arms and that odd body type. He just brings his arm back and flicks his wrist and the ball just shoots off so fast that you want to get out of the way. But that's the first thing you notice with him. He's a young, fun-loving guy with a lot of God-given ability, and once he puts that together with his knowledge of the playbook, he'll be something dangerous.” -- junior receiver Chris Conley

Tramel Terry, Fr., WR?
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 89 overall, No. 9 athlete
This season: Perhaps the biggest question of bowl practice is how to qualify Terry these days. He practiced at receiver all season while returning from an ACL tear, but has been practicing at safety this week.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a guy who has to still get healthy, get strong and prepare to come in and execute at a high level and play fast. And I think he's going to be ready to do that. … When you take an injury like that, it can do some things to your confidence and I think he's gaining it back and he's building it. With the more plays that he makes, the more like the old Tramel Terry he'll be.” -- Conley

A.J. Turman, Fr., RB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 260 overall, No. 22 running back
This season: When Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were injured at midseason, Turman playing seemed like a possibility. But the coaches preserved his redshirt and he'll join a deep backfield in 2014.
Veteran's perspective: “Turman's the man. Just because even if he's on scout team, he's still like wanting to learn what to do and he's always full speed. He's never like, 'Ah, I'm on scout team. I'm not playing this year.' So he's always getting better from what I see. He always asks me questions like, 'What do I do on this? What do I do on that?' and he actually is really like a beast. Y'all will definitely see.” -- Gurley
ATHENS, Ga. -- The offseason is important for every college player, but it is particularly valuable for those hoping to make the transition from off-the-radar prospect to essential contributor.

With that in mind, let's look at five Georgia players (or groups) who need to have strong springs and summers -- once the Bulldogs move past their upcoming bowl matchup, of course -- to become useful players next season.

[+] EnlargeJonathon Rumph
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIReceiver Jonathon Rumph needs to prove he deserves playing time in 2014.
Jonathon Rumph: One of the more high-profile recruits in Georgia's 2013 signing class, the junior college transfer didn't play until midseason and didn't make his first catch until Game 9. Rumph's six catches for 112 yards thus far fall well short of the preseason expectations for a player who signed as the No. 7 overall prospect on ESPN's Junior College 100. Even after making a small impact after his debut, Rumph barely saw the field in Georgia's last two games of the regular season. He needs to prove that he belongs in the rotation next season because he clearly has not convinced receivers coach Tony Ball thus far that he deserves regular playing time.

Brandon Kublanow: With three offensive line positions open after the season ends, we could go several directions here. But let's stick to guard, where starters Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee will both be gone after this season. Kublanow was impressive enough after arriving on campus this summer that he won some playing time as a true freshman. It would not be at all surprising to see him grab a starting job next season if he has a strong spring and summer. He's a grinder, and he's going to become a solid offensive lineman at the college level.

The ILBs: Most likely, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson will be back for their senior seasons in 2014. But it's not a particularly good thing that they essentially played every meaningful down this fall. The Bulldogs need the freshmen who played sparingly -- Reggie Carter, Tim Kimbrough, Johnny O'Neal and Ryne Rankin -- to make a bigger impact next season. Carter is the most obvious choice for more playing time, but Georgia needs to develop more of the talent on the roster in order to be prepared for Wilson and Herrera's departure after next season. To this point, he's the only non-starter at ILB who has played an important down.

A.J. Turman: After redshirting as a freshman, Turman is in an awkward position as 2014 approaches. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are established stars. Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green were productive this fall while playing as true freshmen. Now verbal commits Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are on board to join the team before next season. Turman has some running skills, but he'd better do something to make himself stand out -- soon … like this winter and spring -- or he'll place himself in jeopardy of getting lost in the shuffle.

Jordan Davis: Another 2013 redshirt, Davis has the opportunity to garner major playing time next fall. Arthur Lynch and Hugh Williams will be gone and only Jay Rome will remain among the Bulldogs' 2013 regulars at tight end. Davis should be able to carve out a role -- and he could do himself a favor if he does so before highly-touted verbal commit Jeb Blazevich can establish himself. Davis is a diligent worker and should eventually become a serviceable traditional tight end, whereas Blazevich looks more like a player whose greatest strength will be his receiving skills. The Bulldogs need both skill sets to be present among players at the position.
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
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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.

Planning for success: Georgia

October, 31, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- The persistent story for Georgia over the last month has been the seemingly endless list of key players sidelined by injuries -- a dilemma that looks a bit sunnier this week as the Bulldogs (4-3, 3-2 SEC) prepare to face arguably their biggest rival, Florida (4-3, 3-2).

For starters, All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley seems ready to play for the first time since spraining his ankle in a Sept. 28 win against LSU. If you wonder why the Bulldogs seem to have a bit more bounce in their step, the return of one of the nation's best running backs is one of their biggest reasons for optimism.

“I did see a little bit of that today,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Wednesday's practice. “A couple guys had a conversation saying it was kind of nice to have the big guy back. Because if you know Todd, he's just a fun guy to be around. He'll be in the huddle and he'll be cutting up a little bit and keeping things loose. I think they might have missed that. Not as much as his ability to run the ball, but they missed that part of him, too.”

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesThe return of Todd Gurley would be very good news for Georgia.
Gurley rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown against Florida's stout defense a season ago, so adding him back to the mix with freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas -- both of whom are also back to full speed after dealing with injuries recently -- will be a major factor on Saturday.

“Todd's been resting for over a month now it seems and the two other guys had a week off, so I think we're have a pretty good understanding of what we can do with that attack,” tight end Arthur Lynch said. “And I think Todd will be 100 percent as will the other guys, so if we can run the ball I think it will help us significantly.”

It appears that receiver Michael Bennett -- who caught a key fourth-down touchdown pass against the Gators in 2011 -- is also on track to return this week, as are safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews. That's a striking difference from the injury issues at Florida, which grew Wednesday when the Gators revealed that left tackle D.J. Humphries will miss Saturday's game, adding to the problems for a team that has already lost eight players to season-ending injuries.

The two battered teams enter the game unranked and on matching two-game losing streaks, so Saturday's meeting will hardly occupy its typical spot on the national radar. At best, the winner still has an outside shot of running down No. 9 Missouri (7-1, 3-1) in the SEC East race.

“This game's probably a lot more important to us and Florida than it is to the rest of the country right now, obviously -- both being out of the top 25 and for all intents and purposes out of the national championship hunt,” Richt said. “I think we still, we're both dark horses in the Eastern Division race right now, but again like I've been saying all along, I think we're still in the race and we'd like to stay that way.”

And it's still Georgia-Florida, one of the nation's most heated rivalries, even when BCS implications are not in play.

“It grows on you, and all you need is one game … to really fall in love with the hatred that everyone here has for Florida, and it's not a one-way street. They legitimately hate us too,” said Lynch, a native of Massachusetts. “It's pretty interesting because it's nothing like I've ever seen before.

“I told myself I'd never fall into that cliché Southern mentality of football this, football that, but when it comes to Georgia and Florida, you have a deep-rooted hate that it seems like I've had since I was a little kid, and I didn't start coming to Georgia games until I started playing in them.”

Injuries now 'The Question' for Richt

October, 25, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- For most of his time at Georgia, this was the time of year where Mark Richt started having to answer “the question.” Fortunately for Richt, a two-game winning streak against rival Florida has made for a refreshing change in that department – but that nuisance has only been replaced by a different set of bothersome questions.

“It's nice not to have to hear that question,” Richt told reporters after Thursday's practice. “Year after year, 'When are you going to beat Florida?' that gets pretty old. So that isn't the big topic of conversation this year. Everybody wants to talk about, what did we talk about injuries for the first 80 percent of this meeting so far? That's what everybody's talking about, but it's been the dominating story.”

Richt is one of the most consistent winners among active FBS coaches, but his subpar record against Florida was one of the black marks on an otherwise sterling resume in his first decade as the Bulldogs' coach. Georgia beat the Gators just twice in its first 10 tries under Richt before winning in both 2011 and 2012 -- giving the Bulldogs their first back-to-back wins against the Gators since 1988-89.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsMark Richt doesn't want injuries to become the story of the year at Georgia.
But he's right. The topic du jour leading into next week's Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville is not so much the Bulldogs' chance to run its winning streak to three games as it is the debilitating injuries that have struck both programs, forcing both out of the top 25 following losses over the weekend.

The Gators announced this week that linebacker Jeremi Powell is out for the rest of the season, making him the eighth Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury -- a list that also includes starters Jeff Driskel, Dominique Easley, Chaz Green and Matt Jones.

Georgia has played the last two games -- both losses -- without most of its most dangerous offensive weapons, which is why Richt spent the first several minutes of Thursday's post-practice press gathering discussing injuries, how they have impacted his team and whether some of the injured players might return for the Florida game.

UGA director of sports medicine Ron Courson delivered the team's lengthy injury report to the sports medicine office while Richt was speaking to reporters . The list included 24 players and 12 who have started at least once this season.

Richt addressed some of those concerns -- most notably All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley's return to practice this week following a three-game absence with an ankle injury -- after Thursday's final practice of the open week:

On Gurley: “He practiced. He made it till the end. He ran sprints with everybody at the end. He did scout work, which is really all we asked him to do. But he did fundamental work -- the run polish and that kind of thing. He did good. I'm encouraged.”

On receiver Michael Bennett (knee): “He wasn't trying to break a land-speed record or anything, but he was sprinting and striding out pretty good and he looked fine. The drill I saw him do was kind of a sprint-jog-sprint-jog kind of thing down the field and he looked good. I would think he'll be practicing Monday.”

On center David Andrews (foot): “I think we expect him to play, but he did not go today. Dallas [Lee] was playing center with the first group. … We're hoping it's such a temporary thing you don't think much about it, but we had Kolton [Houston] playing the left guard spot where Dallas was. Kolton's a good player, so I think we'd be OK, but we're better with [Andrews] at center.”

On safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) and receiver Chris Conley (ankle), who both left last Saturday's Vanderbilt loss with injuries: “Neither one of them practiced. I would guess Josh Harvey is closer than Chris and I don't know if Josh will practice Monday or not.”

On freshman linebacker Reggie Carter (knee): “Reggie was not out there. Reggie hurt his knee Tuesday in practice. Don't know how severe yet.”

Bennett and safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) worked on the side with trainers, away from the team, during the portion of practice that was open to the media.

Gurley and fellow tailbacks J.J. Green (right shoulder contusion, left shoulder sprain) and Brendan Douglas (right knee sprain, left wrist sprain) worked in team drills while wearing green non-contact jerseys. Receivers Rhett McGowan (ankle), Michael Erdman (shoulder) and Tramel Terry (shoulder) also practiced in green, joining the lengthy list of players dealing with some physical ailment.

“We don't want to make it the story of the year,” Richt said. “We want to win ballgames. We want to prepare to win with who we have available. We want guys to get well as fast as they can get well. We want some guys that know they're going to miss the season, we want them to be ready as fast as they can so they can have a great year next year. But obviously that's been the thing that most people have talked about because it's been a little unusual in that regard.”

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
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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].”

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