Georgia Bulldogs: Kyle Karempelis

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.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- When Keith Marshall originally signed with Georgia, most expected it to be only a matter of time until he emerged as the Bulldogs' top option at tailback.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesKeith Marshall had a career-best game against Tennessee a year ago.
It took 18 games, and it only happened because fellow sophomore Todd Gurley left last week's LSU game with an ankle sprain. But Marshall handled the No. 1 tailback duties well enough -- a career-high 20 carries for 96 yards -- that those around him feel he can handle the job capably for a full game if Gurley is unable to go Saturday against Tennessee.

“I think [Marshall] could easily carry it 15, 20, 25 times if he had to,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Wednesday's practice.

Marshall -- the only five-star prospect in Georgia's 2012 recruiting class and the No. 5 overall prospect that year -- had never carried the ball more than 16 times in a game before the LSU game, but said he didn't feel any worse for the wear after the heavier workload against the Tigers.

“You're always sore after a game, especially a big-time, physical football [game], so you always get a little sore,” Marshall said. “But I wasn't too bad.”

In fact, he was dynamic against LSU immediately after taking over for Gurley. On the drive where Gurley suffered the ankle injury at the end of a 23-yard run, Marshall followed with four carries for 41 yards before Marshall Morgan kicked a field goal to put the Bulldogs ahead 17-14.

As the game progressed, however, Marshall grew less effective. He ran 13 times in the rest of the game, but picked up only 35 more yards.

He experienced similar results against Clemson while filling in for an injured Gurley. After Gurley missed nearly a quarter of action with a quadriceps strain following a 75-yard touchdown run, Marshall ran seven times before Gurley returned to the game, picking up only 11 yards.

He struggled picking up yards after contact in both outings -- a clear strength of Gurley's -- and said earlier this week that improving in that area is one of his biggest goals.

If Georgia's offensive line blocks against Tennessee on Saturday like it did a season ago, however, Marshall won't have to worry much about breaking tackles. He exploded through a number of big holes to rush for a career-high 164 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries in the Bulldogs' win against the Volunteers last fall.

“Last year, the whole offense had a great game,” Marshall said of Georgia's 51-44 win. “I think the offensive line blocked well and did a good job opening up holes, so I just had a couple of big runs.”

Gurley tested the ankle before practice on Wednesday, but was unable to take the field with his teammates. Richt didn't rule out the All-SEC star, who was leading the league in rushing entering the LSU game and now has a team-high 450 rushing yards, but it was apparent that the No. 6 Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0 SEC) are looking hard at other options in the event that Gurley does not play.

Behind Marshall (51 carries, 213 yards, 1 TD), those options begin with true freshmen J.J. Green (5-65, 1 TD) and Brendan Douglas (11-39).

“J.J. and Brendan had to spot play in the first four games, so they're paying attention this week. Their reps have gone up since Todd hadn't practiced the first two days,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said after Tuesday's practice. “We've just got to get them ready. I'm glad we've got some depth there. It is young, but we've got to get those guys ready to play.”

The Bulldogs also have walk-on Kyle Karempelis available along with another true freshman, A.J. Turman, although Richt said he does not plan to burn Turman's redshirt over what would likely be a short-term absence for Gurley.

Even if Gurley made enough of a last-minute recovery to play on Saturday, his workload would likely be reduced significantly with some combination of Marshall, Green and Douglas taking the bulk of the snaps. And that's not such a terrible problem with Tennessee's porous run defense -- the Vols rank 11th in the SEC in run defense, allowing 163.2 yards per game -- awaiting them on Saturday.

Nobody knew Gurley would become the force in Georgia's running game that he quickly became after joining the Bulldogs last summer, overshadowing the highest-profile recruit in his signing class, Marshall. The duo emerged as one of the nation's better rushing duos, however, with Marshall (759 yards, 8 TDs last season) playing the complementary role to leading man Gurley (1,385, 17 TDs).

It might very well be Marshall's time to shine alone on Saturday, but that hardly seemed to be a source of concern among the Bulldogs.

“It's awesome having a back like that, especially one who's considered, quotation mark, a backup,” receiver Chris Conley said. “Keith's worked like a starter, he's practiced like a starter and to us he is a starter with Todd. It's good to have two backs who play like that.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Hutson Mason is not a rookie, but he felt like one in some ways during Saturday’s G-Day game.

After redshirting last fall -- his third season in college -- to gain a year of separation between himself and fourth-year starting quarterback Aaron Murray, Mason had to shake off some jitters entering his first competitive game in a year.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/US PresswireQuarterback Hutson Mason redshirted last season and treated G-Day like a comeback.
“Coming into this, I was treating this like a game for me because it’s been so long that I’ve really emotionally and mentally been like, ‘Hey man, this is game day,’ ” said Mason, who led the Black team to a comeback 23-17 victory over the Red. “I wanted to kind of see how my body would react being out there with 40,000 people. It’s not quite like game day, but you kind of get your body back into that feeling and getting ready.”

It was not a perfect day for the redshirt junior. The Black punted on his first three drives and he scrambled and threw an interception to freshman linebacker Reggie Carter at midfield on his fourth.

“I thought that the pick earlier was the worst decision that I’ve made at Georgia, but definitely this spring,” Mason said. “That was just pathetic. I’ve got to throw the ball away.”

But Mason improved as the day progressed. He threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jonathon Rumph in the second quarter and drove the Black to two field goals in the fourth quarter to provide the six-point margin of victory.

Mason completed 16 for 27 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

“We slung it around today pretty well and we had a juco guy in Rumph, so he doesn’t really know what he’s doing,” Mason said. “So I was really just happy for the guys to step up and make the most of their opportunities when they needed to.”

G-Day all-stars: Every spring game has its surprise standouts.

(Read full post)

UGA's special teams struggles continue 

October, 21, 2012
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Imagine if you dare what might have happened if Connor Norman hadn’t saved Georgia by recovering an onside kick with just less than four minutes to play in the Bulldogs’ 29-24 win at Kentucky on Saturday.

Georgia had just allowed Kentucky to tiptoe back into the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive and was clinging to a 5-point lead when Wildcats kicker Joseph Mansour tapped an onside kick that had nearly trickled the necessary 10 yards when he crouched to dive on the loose ball. Only Norman raced to dive on the ball a split second before him, preventing Kentucky from attempting a potential game-winning drive that could have devastated the Georgia program and its fans.

“Connor was heads up to go in there and snatch it and be strong enough to convince the officials that it was his. So it was a huge play,” a relieved Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the game. “It was a lot of huge plays in the game, but Connor did a great job.”

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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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Postgame quotes from UGA-NMSU 

November, 5, 2011
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Here is some of what Georgia's players and coaches had to say after Saturday's homecoming win against New Mexico State:

Georgia running back Brandon Harton on fumbling the ball on his first carry:
“I wanted to score so bad on that first carry. We were so close to the goal line. We had just run a few passing plays before, so the defense was tired. I felt if I just hit it hard that I could break arm tackles and they’d be too tired to catch me before I got to the end zone.”

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Richt on SEC teleconference 

November, 2, 2011
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Mark Richt addressed Georgia's running back situation -- following the suspensions of Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome -- on the SEC coaches teleconference on Wednesday afternoon. Here is some of that Q&A session:

On accusations that Georgia pushed back punishment until after the Florida game:
My response is we’ve always had the utmost integrity in everything we do and we have policies in place in our Athletic Association that we follow to the T. That’s the case here and it’s been the case since I’ve been here at Georgia. We all know that we do our business the way it should be done and we do it with integrity. People who make comments and who don’t know probably shouldn’t, quite frankly, because they don’t know. I’d be able to prove 100 percent that they’re wrong, but I’m not going to spend the time doing that. But the bottom line is we have rules and we follow them to the T and we’ve got the utmost integrity in how we go about our business. That’s how we tried to build this program since the day I got here, and we’re not going to change for any reason.

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Following Tuesday's practice, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo discussed what the Bulldogs will do at running back and on offense this weekend against New Mexico State, following the one-game suspensions of tailbacks Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome and the injury to tailback Richard Samuel.

Here is some of what Bobo had to say to the gathered reporters:

On who they plan to play at tailback:

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