Georgia Bulldogs: Marshall Morgan

Continuing our run-up to Georgia's spring practice, this week we'll review the Bulldogs' five best recruiting classes of the last decade.

Today, we'll look at No. 4: The 2012 group that is still etching its legacy into Georgia history. We should revisit this ranking again in another couple years.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley became a star in the Bulldogs' backfield.
The stars: Keith Marshall was the initial class headliner, but Todd Gurley immediately shot to stardom when the star tailbacks arrived on campus. The duo combined for 2,144 rushing yards as freshmen and nearly helped the Bulldogs claim the 2012 SEC title. Both struggled with injuries last fall, but Gurley looks like he has the chance to become one of the greatest tailbacks in school history. Among the other headliners in the class, offensive tackle John Theus and outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins also played early roles, although they have not yet reached their expected potential from recruiting. Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is also in that boat, with his 2013 season -- his first as a starter -- displaying potential and not much consistency yet. Kicker Marshall Morgan bounced back from a shaky freshman season to enjoy one of the best seasons in school history. And Leonard Floyd -- who initially signed with Georgia in 2012 and re-signed with the following year after a season in prep school -- looks like a star pass-rusher in the making after leading the team with 6.5 sacks last fall.

The contributors: With most of the class still having two or three years of eligibility left, the list of contributors should grow substantially. Quayvon Hicks has started to develop as a productive fullback, while offensive lineman Mark Beard and punter Collin Barber have played a larger role than many players who are still waiting to break through. Defensive lineman John Taylor and cornerback Sheldon Dawson have made minor contributions thus far, but could be names to watch for the future.

The letdowns: There has not been much attrition from the class yet, which is a good sign. Tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith was dismissed last summer and is the lone departure to this point. Otherwise, the disappointment for this class might be that some of the headliners haven't become consistent stars … yet. Jenkins, Theus and Harvey-Clemons have been good players so far, but they need to make further progress to live up to their billing as recruits.

The results: This will be a big year for this class' ultimate place in UGA history. Some members -- Gurley and Marshall in particular -- helped Georgia come within an eyelash of playing for the 2012 BCS crown. It was a disappointing 2013 for the class and program because of injuries and disciplinary issues, so they need to bounce back a bit in 2014. This might be Gurley's final season on campus, but most members of this group still have plenty of time to make sure Gurley won't be the only breakout performer to come from their class.

Season report card: Georgia

January, 29, 2014
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An avalanche of injuries and an underperforming defense caused Georgia to slip from its top-five preseason ranking to an 8-5 finish. Let's review.

OFFENSE: B-plus
[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesInjuries took a toll on Todd Gurley and the Bulldogs in 2013.
Georgia's offense deserves a ‘With TG’ grade and a ‘Without TG’ grade because it was a completely different group when star tailback Todd Gurley was healthy. Even with Gurley struggling with a quad injury, the Bulldogs still scored 35 points against Clemson in the season opener. With Gurley out for a month at midseason, the offense sputtered a bit, and the Bulldogs lost twice more. But it's no coincidence that once he returned to the lineup, Georgia won four of its last five regular-season games and nearly pulled off a dramatic upset against eventual SEC champ Auburn. Record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray was the glue to this group until suffering his own season-ending injury -- the unfortunate story of Georgia's season, as receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall all missed at least half of the season, as well. Despite the physical setbacks, Mike Bobo's offense still set multiple school records, including a new mark for total offense (484.2 ypg). We'll always wonder what might have been with this group, but it was still a pretty good season.

DEFENSE: D
Georgia fans expected this to be a rebuilding year on defense after losing 12 key contributors off the previous season's defense. But 2013 was a more painful transition than most expected. The Bulldogs gave up some huge point and yardage totals early in the season, and while they did improve a bit as the season progressed, they were still far too inconsistent. They finished the season ranked eighth in the SEC in total defense (375.5 ypg) and tied for 10th in scoring (29 ppg) -- totals that simply weren't good enough for the Bulldogs to live up to their preseason billing once their high-powered offense began to slow down with the injuries. After the season, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and all three defensive assistants left the staff, with former Florida State coordinator Jeremy Pruitt taking over. Georgia returns almost everyone from its 2013 defense, so Pruitt could be set up to enjoy early success.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D
If Marshall Morgan hadn't been one of the best kickers in the nation, this grade might have been even lower. However, Morgan was absurdly good, converting 22 of 24 field goals (including 7-for-8 from 40 yards or more) and all 47 PATs. Otherwise, Georgia's special teams play was a comedy of errors: blocked punts, fumbled snaps, kick returns allowed for touchdowns. Some Bulldogs fans have clamored for Mark Richt to dedicate an assistant coach specifically to improve in this area, but he has thus far resisted that idea. Nonetheless, there wasn't much to like on special teams aside from the kicker making huge strides as a sophomore.

OVERALL: C
Prior to the season, no Georgia fan would have been pleased to learn that the Bulldogs would finish the season with five losses. After nearly playing for a BCS title and returning most everyone on offense from 2012, this was a team expected to at least contend for the SEC East title. It's only fair to cut the Bulldogs a bit of slack (check out what happened at Florida after injuries hit the roster in a similar fashion) for remaining a competitive club despite the physical setbacks. But 8-5 is simply not very good for this program, and it could have been a much better season.

Past grades:
Florida
Auburn
Arkansas
Alabama

Georgia helmet stickers

January, 2, 2014
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Top performers for Georgia from its 24-19 loss to Nebraska on Wednesday in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl:

QB Hutson Mason: The junior made a few mistakes in his second start after Aaron Murray went down against Kentucky, but Mason threw for 320 yards and played a key role in UGA’s seven third-down conversions on 19 attempts. He struggled at times to connect with the wideouts, in part because of solid coverage by Nebraska, but Mason effectively checked to tailback Todd Gurley and tight end Arthur Lynch. The Bulldogs stalled in the red zone as several passes were dropped and Nebraska neutralized the ground game. Still, Mason had Georgia in position to win in the final minute. He appears poised for a strong senior season.

S Quincy Mauger: The true freshman set the tone on the first play from scrimmage by corralling Nebraska receiver Quincy Enunwa for a six-yard loss on a reverse. Without injured classmate Tray Matthews, Mauger took over a key role in the secondary. Yes, Enunwa got the best of him in the third quarter on the Huskers’ 99-yard touchdown connection, but cornerback Shaq Wiggins appeared equally unprepared to stop the long pass. The Georgia defense, aside from that breakdown, did its job well against Nebraska. Big play included, The Huskers gained just 307 yards and scored with the short field after two UGA turnovers.

PK Marshall Morgan: The all-SEC sophomore didn’t miss a kick in the Bulldogs’ final eight games, finishing 22 of 24 this season on field goals after a 4-for-4 performance on Wednesday. Morgan was perfect in difficult conditions as the grass at EverBank Field turned to slop in the rainy conditions. He hit from 38 yards twice (three times if you count his repeat after Nebraska failed to ice Morgan as time expired in the first half), 28 and 30. Until the first play of the fourth quarter, in fact, Morgan accounted for all of Georgia’s scoring. His strong finish to an outstanding season came after a rough freshman year in which Morgan made 8 of 14 field goals.

Drama is all that Georgia knows

November, 30, 2013
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ATLANTA -- Of course Georgia's season ended like this.

With backup quarterback Hutson Mason making his first career start against Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs spotted the rival Yellow Jackets a 20-0 lead only to rally and force overtime -- and then win 41-34 in the second extra session on a deflected pass that seemed to hang in the air for several minutes.

"I'm just glad I'm still standing," Georgia coach Mark Richt said, relief evident in his weary voice.

Richt's team dealt with injuries to key players all season, played down to the final gun seemingly every week and gave many members of its fan base a good reason to visit a cardiologist. Or a psychiatrist. Or both.

Of course the Bulldogs (8-4) would allow Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee, who hadn't exactly looked like Dan Marino this season, to hit multiple big passes in the first quarter -- throws of 68, 43 and 26 yards -- that helped the Yellow Jackets (7-5) build a 17-0 lead by the end of the period. Of course they would rally back behind Mason and tailback Todd Gurley, who scored both overtime touchdowns, and a defense that hadn't been able to stop anyone consistently all season.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMITodd Gurley's dive into the end zone finally put Georgia on the board late in the first half.
"It wouldn't be a 2013 Bulldogs game unless we were down 20-0 and came back to win," said Mason, who passed for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in place of SEC career passing leader Aaron Murray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against Kentucky. "That's just the way it seems to go this year."

It came down to Tech's final overtime possession, with the Jackets grinding all the way down to Georgia's 3 before Leonard Floyd led a host of tacklers to stop Robert Godhigh for a 3-yard loss and force a final fourth-down play.

Lee -- who passed for a season-high 232 yards -- threw over the middle to Darren Waller, only to have linebacker Ramik Wilson tip it into the air. Cornerback Damian Swann then batted the deflection away from Godhigh, and it fell to the ground incomplete.

Unlike their failure under similar circumstances two weeks ago in the final seconds against Auburn, the Bulldogs made the pass breakup that put away a dramatic win against a rival.

"It was up there for a while," said Wilson, who was second on the team with nine tackles. "I hit it as hard as I could, trying to make a play. Then it bounced to Swann, and Swann hit it up again. So I'm just glad that the ball fell down."

Said Gurley, who rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns and caught four passes for 36 yards and another score: "I was like, 'Thank God.' I just knew somebody from Tech was coming to get that tipped ball, but they didn't."

Early on, it didn't look like there would be any late-game dramatics. Lee went 3-for-4 for 137 yards in the first quarter alone, while Mason and the UGA offense sputtered. It wasn't until the Bulldogs' final drive of the second quarter, which started with just 1:43 remaining until halftime, that they finally began to show a pulse.

Operating out of the up-tempo setup that helped him become a record-setting passer in high school, Mason went 5-for-5 -- including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Gurley -- and ran for a 16-yard gain as the Bulldogs' 86-yard scoring drive cut Tech's halftime lead to 20-7.

Georgia got the ball to open the second half and drove 63 yards to set up Marshall Morgan's 40-yard field goal, and all of a sudden 20-0 became 20-10, and the folks wearing old gold at Bobby Dodd Stadium weren't quite so loud.

"Momentum's huge in a road game, and with that environment and being down 20, they had all of it in the first half," Mason said. "And you can see how quickly it can change."

Then the defense started getting stops more consistently. Tech's vaunted rushing attack picked up chunks of yards -- it finished with 263 yards on 58 attempts -- but the Jackets mustered just one second-half touchdown, while the Bulldogs put 20 points on the board.

They tied the score for the first time at 27-all when Morgan booted a 32-yard field goal, and then the defense stopped Tech at the Georgia 40 on the ensuing possession to force overtime.

It was all Gurley from there. The Bulldogs' All-SEC tailback ran three straight times and scored from 6 yards to answer Lee's touchdown run in the opening OT period. And then Gurley bolted 25 yards up the middle to score on Georgia's first play of the second overtime.

That put it back on the defense -- which forced two punts, intercepted two passes, surrendered a fourth-quarter touchdown pass and saw Tech's Harrison Butker miss a 43-yard field goal after the Jackets went up 20-0 -- to make one final stop.

Unlike the end of that devastating loss to Auburn, when Ricardo Louis caught a floating deflection for the game-winning score, this time they made the play to win.

"I was saying in the locker room it was a little bit of a redemptive feeling after that Auburn game to have this win -- just a little bit," said receiver Michael Bennett, who caught five passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. "Bottom line, we've got to start out better, obviously, but to see our team come back from that is just amazing."

There has been plenty of amazing this season for Georgia. Some of the good kind and some of the bad. Of course, the Bulldogs couldn't finish without providing one more moment to remember.
ATHENS, Ga. -- If you're a Georgia fan who had much confidence when Marshall Morgan took the field last season to attempt a field goal -- or heck, even an extra point -- consider yourself among the rare few.

Like many freshman kickers, Morgan's first season was rocky to say the least. Those who are any good, however, generally take a big step in Year 2, and Morgan is certainly doing that.

[+] EnlargeMarshall Morgan
AP Photo/Wade PayneGeorgia kicker Marshall Morgan has made 13 of 15 field goals he has attempted this season, and is 22-of-22 on extra point tries.
This week he was named as one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award -- which goes to the nation's top kicker -- and won the SEC's Special Teams Player of the Week award for the third time in the six games since he returned from a two-game suspension to open the season.

“He's had some bombs and I don't even think about it now,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “His 50-yarder he had the other day [a 49-yard kick against Florida], I wasn't even concerned at all. I was like, 'All right, it's going in.' I wasn't even watching. I turned around and he made it and I was like, 'Hey, attaboy' and gave him a little high five and that was it. No worries at all.”

Compare that attitude to last season, when Morgan started the season in a funk on PATs and ended it by hitting just two of his last five field-goal tries, and the difference is striking. Morgan admits that he sensed his teammates' trepidation when he would take the field, which makes his success this season even more gratifying.

“[They made] just little remarks that aren't meant to hurt you, but it sticks on, you know? So now it's kind of like you look back and put it in their face,” Morgan laughed.

The sophomore has had plenty of reasons to smile this season. He leads the nation in made field goals per game (2.2) and ranks 12th (first in the SEC) with an average of 10.2 points per game. He's a perfect 22-for-22 on extra points and his only two misses out of the 15 field goals he has attempted came from 52 (North Texas) and 39 (Tennessee) yards, while his long of 56 yards set a new record at Tennessee's Neyland Stadium.

“I feel like I'm starting to earn my scholarship a little bit,” Morgan said. “Before I felt kind of like, I don't know, like last year, it was like average kicking. And this year, I feel like I'm actually working towards a goal and actually achieving a goal slowly but surely.”

Asked about the difference in their kicker from last season to this fall, several Bulldogs mentioned his improved maturity -- an area that Morgan mentioned too.

“He was a little bit of an airhead when he first got here. He still is, but he's more mature,” receiver Michael Bennett cracked.

Morgan is also more confident on the field after an offseason of hard work and a transitional first year in college where he – like all kickers – had to adjust to playing in front of bigger crowds and kicking off the ground instead of off a tee.

That, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said, is the biggest factor as a sophomore kicker makes significant improvement from his first college season.

“The first time you do it, you go from kicking in a high school stadium with 500 people or maybe 5,000 people,” Richt said. “You're kicking off a tee and the rush isn't the same, and then you go into these stadiums where there's 80, 90 or 100,000 people inside and there are people watching on TV. Every single game, you know that every kick you make is probably going to make a difference in winning or losing, or even every extra point.

“That's kind of hard to adjust to when you're not used to that, and it's probably a little bit of a shock to them.”

It has certainly been the trend at Georgia. In 2008, Blair Walsh hit just 65 percent of his field goals as a freshman before posting two of the most consistent seasons in school history as a sophomore (90.9 percent) and junior (86.96). Now Morgan is in position to post one of the best percentages in school history if he keeps kicking at the same clip down the stretch.

“I dreamed of it,” Morgan said when asked if he expected to enjoy this kind of success. “Of course I believed in myself, but now that it's actually happening, it's a lot better feeling.”

Competition also helped him raise his game this season, Morgan said. After a mediocre first season, and then an offseason arrest for boating under the influence that forced him to miss the first two games, Morgan knew he wasn't guaranteed a job when he returned to the active roster.

Patrick Beless went 2-for-2 on field goals and 10-for-10 on PATs, so Morgan had to produce once he came back for the North Texas game -- and he has.

“Patty did a great job. He didn't miss,” Morgan said. “So just in the back of my mind I was like, 'I could lose my job, so I've really got to take it serious.' I just hunkered down and just really no jokes on the field. I just really did my kicking and that's what I still do now and it's working.”

Bennett's return sparks UGA receivers

November, 5, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- October has been a cruel month for Michael Bennett, as knee injuries suffered early in the month in each of the last two seasons knocked the receiver out of Georgia's lineup.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bennett
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichael Bennett looks for more yardage against Florida.
Luckily for the Bulldogs, Bennett was able to return for this month after a meniscus injury suffered in the Tennessee game cost him only two games. A year ago, an ACL tear suffered in practice the week of the South Carolina game forced Bennett to miss the remainder of the fall just as he emerged as the Bulldogs' leading receiver.

“I was kind of bummed because I feel like every time in early October, I'm out,” Bennett said after making five catches for 59 yards in Saturday's 23-20 win against Florida. “But it was good to come back in this November game. Freshman year when I was here, it was awesome to get a win, to come back and beat them. There's no better feeling than beating the Gators.”

For his injury-depleted position group, it was awesome to get one of its most important players back on the field. The Bulldogs passed for a season-low 114 yards in their previous game, a loss to Vanderbilt, with Bennett sidelined temporarily and Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell out for the season with ACL tears.

Things weren't completely back to normal against Florida. Chris Conley was still out with an ankle sprain suffered in the Vandy game and Scott-Wesley and Mitchell obviously won't be back until 2014, but Bennett and returning tailback Todd Gurley both contributed heavily in the passing game and junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph played for the first time after a hamstring ailment forced him to miss the first half of the season.

Regaining some of their weapons, with Conley still expected to return this season, has the Bulldogs thinking that things are looking up.

“We're going to improve every week, improve every day, really,” said senior receiver Rantavious Wooten. “We're going to exceed everybody's expectations, because some people have said whatever about us because we lost some guys, but in this locker room, we know what we're capable of.”

Conley's return won't occur this Saturday against Appalachian State, according to Bulldogs coach Mark Richt. The following week's game against Auburn might be a long shot.

“I would say it's very doubtful for him to be playing this week,” Richt said on his Monday call-in show. “I would hope that he'll be able to play against Auburn, but even that's kind of hard to say right now. He's still on crutches and has got a long ways to go. … Certainly he won't be ready this week.”

Regardless, the Bulldogs moved the ball much more effectively through the air against the Gators – even though Richt said Florida's secondary features “the best cover corners in the league and maybe in the country.”

Bennett played a major role in that improvement, as did senior Rhett McGowan, who made a 23-yard catch in the final seconds of the second quarter to set up a Marshall Morgan field goal at the end of the first half.

McGowan made just as big a play in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, when he caught a third-and-7 pass from Aaron Murray and squirted between a group of Florida defenders for a 7-yard gain that extended the Bulldogs' game-ending drive.

“That last play where he threw it to me, it was just my number was called and it's a play that we'd been practicing all week and we were able to execute it,” said McGowan, who had three catches for 43 yards. “I'm so thankful we got the first down and we were able to get one more first down and finish the game out.”

With Conley still out and Rumph finally able to play, Richt said the Bulldogs hope he can make a long-awaited impact. Rumph was the top receiver and No. 7 overall prospect on ESPN's Junior College 100 when he enrolled in January, but is still waiting to make his first career catch.

If he can establish himself before Conley returns, Georgia's receiving corps can still finish the season as a productive group despite the injuries that created some extremely lean times for a couple weeks in October.

“Hopefully we can get some balls thrown his direction just so he can get excited about catching some balls again,” Richt said of Rumph. “It's been a while for him and you catch a bunch in practice and you hope to have a shot to catch a few in the games.

“He was here in the spring and had a really good spring game and I'm sure he's anxious to get a chance to catch a ball. So we've still got to keep working on assignments and blocking and all that kind of thing, but hopefully there'll be an opportunity to get a ball thrown his way, or two or three or whatever. Hopefully he'll have a big day.”

SEC players of the week

November, 4, 2013
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Here are the SEC players of the week as released by the league on Monday:

OFFENSE: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
  • Rushed for 168 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries to lead Auburn to a 35-17 win at Arkansas. His four rushing touchdowns and 32 carries were both career-highs.
  • Became the first Auburn player since Cam Newton at Kentucky in 2010 to rush for four or more touchdowns in a game.
  • It was his fourth 100-yard rushing game in the last six contests.
DEFENSE: Victor Hampton, DB, South Carolina
  • Hampton was credited with eight tackles including six solo stops. He had three pass breakups and forced and recovered a fumble.
  • The Gamecocks defense forced five turnovers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Marshall Morgan, PK, Georgia
  • Morgan scored 11 points in the Bulldogs’ 23-20 win over Florida, including 3 for 3 on field goals.
  • He highlighted his performance by drilling a 32-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and a 49-yarder earlier in the game.
  • Morgan leads the SEC in scoring at 10.2 pts/game and is 13-for-15 on the year (misses from 52 and 39).
FRESHMAN: Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri
  • Led the No. 10 Tigers to a 31-3 victory Saturday over Tennessee to improve Mizzou to 8-1, 4-1 in SEC play. Accounted for 277 yards of total offense, as he became the first Mizzou QB since 2011 (James Franklin vs. North Carolina) to throw and rush for 100 yards in a game.
  • Ended the night with 163 yards passing and 3 touchdowns (zero interceptions) and ran for a career-high 114 yards on 13 carries (an 8.8 avg. per attempt).
  • His touchdown passes came from 9, 26 and 40 yards to three different receivers, and he did not take a sack on the night.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Justin Britt, LT, Missouri
  • Britt had another all-star performance as he helped pave and protect the way for a 502-yard night of total offense for Mizzou in its 31-3 win against Tennessee. Britt graded out at 94 percent, and he had five knockdown blocks, three pancake blocks and two cut blocks. Additionally, Britt allowed zero QB pressures and zero QB sacks.
  • Mizzou rushed for 339 yards Saturday against Tennessee, marking its biggest rushing total in a conference game since 2003, when the Tigers ran for 376 yards in a 45-7 win against Iowa State on Nov. 29, 2003.
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: Garrison Smith, NG, Georgia
  • Smith recorded a career-high nine tackles, including 2.5 sacks for loss of 12 yards, during Georgia’s 23-20 win over Florida.
  • After coming into the game with 1.5 sacks this year and only a single sack during the first three years of his career, Smith is third on the team with four sacks and third with a total of 44 tackles this season.
  • He led a defense that surrendered only a pair of touchdowns (which had drives of 14 and 50 yards) and a field goal.
1. Georgia coach Mark Richt is raving about kicker Marshall Morgan, and not just because the sophomore already has made field goals of 56 and 55 yards. Richt loves Morgan’s kickoffs. “He was kicking 4.1 or 4.2 [seconds] hang time, which is a long time to hang a kickoff,” Richt said. He asked Morgan to kick to the goal line rather than get a touchback, hoping to pin returners inside the 20. Then Brelan Chancellor of North Texas took one 99 yards for a touchdown. Morgan had five touchbacks at Tennessee.

2. Yes, the ACC Atlantic showdown between No. 3 Clemson and No. 6 Florida State is a week away. But given the upgrade of play in the league, I wondered when the last time two ACC top-10 teams played one another. You have to go all the way back to ... last season, when the Seminoles beat the Tigers, 49-37. Prior to that, however, the last ACC top-10 game was six years ago, that great Thursday night game when No. 2 Boston College and Matt Ryan came back to beat No. 8 Virginia Tech, 14-10.

3. BC is showing signs of a renaissance under new head coach Steve Addazio. The Eagles, 3-2, already have surpassed last season's win total (2-10) as they prepare to play at No. 3 Clemson on Saturday. The Eagles are more physical at the line of scrimmage, and they are taking better care of the ball. Last season, they lost 11 fumbles in 12 games. This season, they are tied for the FBS lead with one lost fumble. Overall, BC is plus-four in turnovers after being minus-five last season.
ATHENS, Ga. -- One of the prevailing images from last Saturday's win against Tennessee was Georgia's players dogpiling on top of Marshall Morgan to celebrate his game-winning 42-yard field goal in overtime.

It capped a day where the sophomore claimed the SEC's special teams player of the week award for the second straight week after booting the longest field goal in Neyland Stadium history, a 56-yarder in the first quarter, and the game-winner in OT. But it wasn't much fun to be in Morgan's position at the time.

[+] EnlargeMarshall Morgan
AP Photo/Wade PayneGeorgia kicker Marshall Morgan kicked a 56-yard field goal against Tennessee, the longest on the road in school history.
“I was trying to get them off me,” said Morgan, whose Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0 SEC) host Missouri (5-0, 1-0) on Saturday. “That's a lot of weight. I've got asthma.”

Otherwise, the Bulldogs' special-teams effort was memorable for the wrong reasons, continuing what has been a season-long trend. Collin Barber had a punt blocked for a touchdown -- the second time that has happened this season -- and Blake Sailors received a five-yard penalty for defensive delay of game after Georgia forced a third-quarter punt, giving Tennessee a fourth-and-1 that prompted the Volunteers to instead go for a first down.

Vols running back Rajion Neal then broke a 43-yard run that set up his game-tying touchdown run when Georgia's defense could have been off the field if not for the rarely-seen penalty.

“If you make a movement that it looks like you're trying to get somebody to jump offsides, if they jump offsides, it's on the defense. It's on us in that case,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I've never really seen that happen before and it was pretty crucial, obviously. We had a great stop and they were in a position to punt. I think it was a fourth-and-1 or less and they get the long run. A lot of bad plays happened after that point, and we learned a lesson. Can't do it.”

Quayvon Hicks -- one of three protectors in Georgia's punt shield lineup along with Arthur Lynch and Josh Dawson -- said there was a miscommunication on the play and accepted blame for the Tennessee block.

“I put that all on me,” Hicks said. “I would say it was a miscommunication, but it was something that could have been prevented. It will be something that we're really working on, especially me as a player, to make sure that it doesn't happen in the future.”

Hicks could have saved the day if he had blocked Jalen Reeves-Maybin before he darted through to deflect Barber's punt, but front-line blocker Leonard Floyd also barely got a hand on Reeves-Maybin.

Their collective whiff allowed the Tennessee rusher to break through, and Lynch said the decibel level in Neyland Stadium played a direct role in the miscommunication.

“It's so much easier going out and practicing and doing it, even if it's full-speed practice because you kind of have that communication barrier and it really was a lot louder than I think a lot of people thought,” Lynch said. “Lucas Redd looked at me and was like, 'I had to read your lips.' That was one of the things that you just can't have those types of setbacks. I think we've cleaned it up.”

A skeptic might point out that Georgia has vowed to clean up its special-teams errors several times recently, only to see another mistake lead to an opponent touchdown. Asked what he thinks the team needs to do to remedy those miscues, Hicks was direct in his response.

“It's really not what we think, it's what we're going to do,” Hicks said. “Thinking, that's a part of football that really doesn't matter. I think Coach can only do so much. I know we're a very close team, so we're going to do what we have to do this week to make sure that not only in the Missouri game, but here on out, that that doesn't happen anymore. It's just something that could have been prevented. It could have cost us the game.”

That seems to be the message that Richt is imparting to his club, as well. Georgia's errors in the kicking game are simply a quality-control issue, where a lack of attention to detail has allowed opponents to steal easy points.

A shaky snap might have cost Georgia the game in its lone loss. The Bulldogs are fortunate that their ensuing mistakes weren't so costly, but they know their luck will likely run out if they don't fix the problems -- and keep them fixed.

“Us as coaches, we've got to do a better job of simulating what's going to happen in the game and coaching and teaching properly where these guys can be more dependable,” Richt said. “So it's a two-way street. Coaches gotta coach better, for sure, and the players have got to take on their responsibilities and take care of business.

“That's the way it is in life, so we're learning the hard way, and just by the grace of God the two times we had blocked punts, we still won the game. But the margin for error is just getting slimmer and slimmer.”

SEC players of the week

October, 7, 2013
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Here are the SEC players of the week, as announced by the league on Monday:

OFFENSIVE: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
  • Threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns in leading LSU to a 59-26 win over Mississippi State. Completed a career-high 25 passes on 29 attempts in engineering the Tiger offense to 563 total yards and eight touchdowns. His .860 completion percentage is the fourth-highest total for a QB in school history in a game with at least 20 attempts.
  • Became only the third QB in school history, and the first since Rohan Davey in 2001, to have 300 yards passing in back-to-back games. The 59 points were the most for the Tigers in an SEC game since scoring 63 against Kentucky in 1997. LSU has scored 30 points or more in all six games -- a first in school history.
DEFENSIVE: Loucheiz Purifoy, DB, Florida
  • He returned his first career interception for a touchdown (42 yards) that gave Florida a lead it never relinquished. Also made the first sack of his career, pulling Brandon Allen down 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
  • Added four tackles, three pass breakups and a forced fumble in the win over the Razorbacks.
  • Assisted a Gator defense that made two sacks against an Arkansas offense that was allowing just 0.6 sacks per game.
  • Also returned two punts for 17 yards.
  • Named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Marshall Morgan, PK, Georgia
  • Morgan scored 10 points in the Bulldogs’ 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee, including the game-winning 42-yard field goal (first FG game-winner since 2009 for the Bulldogs).
  • Started the game by drilling a career-long 56 yarder to put Georgia up 3-0 (longest FG for the Bulldogs since 2011, the longest on the road in school history, longest in Neyland Stadium history, the longest for any team against Tennessee in history, the longest in the SEC this year).
FRESHMAN: Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
  • True freshman had a career-high six tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss (minus-10 yards) and two sacks (minus-7 yards) and one quarterback hurry.
  • Helped lead Auburn to its first win over a ranked opponent since 2011.
  • Part of an Auburn defensive line that recorded 6.0 sacks and 14.0 tackles for loss, the most sacks by an AU team since 11 vs. Alabama in 2005 and the most TFLs by an AU defense since 2004 vs. Kentucky.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Chris Burnette, OG, Georgia
  • Graded out at 82 percent with six dominator blocks and four knockdowns during Georgia's 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee.
  • Burnette anchored an offense that generated at least 34 points and 400 yards for the fifth consecutive game of the 2013 season.
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
  • Notched a second-straight three-sack game with his three-sack, five-tackle outing Saturday night in Mizzou’s 51-28 win at Vanderbilt. Two of his sacks came on fourth-down plays in the fourth-quarter as Vanderbilt was trying to stage a late rally.
  • The three sacks ties the NCAA single-game high through Oct. 5th this season, and Sam is the only player in the nation so far to record three sacks in a game twice. It’s been done 16 times overall so far, but Sam is the only repeat performer on the single-game list.
  • Sam leads the SEC in both sacks and tackles for loss, and ranks fifth in the NCAA so far in sacks (1.2 per game) and 6th in the NCAA in TFLs (2.0 per game).

Week 6 helmet stickers

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
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No. 6 Georgia barely survived Tennessee's upset bid on Saturday, with the Bulldogs winning 34-31 in overtime. With this week's helmet stickers, we'll single out three players who made that win a reality.

Aaron Murray: Georgia asked its quarterback to save the Bulldogs from a late deficit for a second straight week, and for a second time Murray delivered. Despite the absence of many of his top playmakers, Murray drove the team 75 yards for the game-tying touchdown -- a 2-yard pass to Rantavious Wooten with 5 seconds to play -- and the Bulldogs won with a Marshall Morgan field goal in overtime.

J.J. Green: When Keith Marshall left the game with a knee injury -- and All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley was already out with an ankle ailment -- Georgia leaned on diminutive freshman Green to carry the running game. Green responded with 17 carries for 132 yards (7.6 ypc). His fellow freshman back Brendan Douglas also deserves a nod for his 32-yard catch and run to the Tennessee 13 on Georgia's game-tying touchdown drive

Marshall Morgan: The SEC's Special Teams Player of the Week came up big again -- and not just when he hit the game-winning 42-yard field goal in overtime. The sophomore drilled a 56-yard field goal in the first quarter that was the longest in Neyland Stadium history and the longest this season in the SEC. Morgan missed from 39 yards in the third quarter, but the two clutch makes more than make up for that miss off the upright.

With injuries hitting many of its most important offensive players and Tennessee rallying to take a late lead, No. 6 Georgia barely forced overtime with a game-tying touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to Rantavious Wooten with 5 seconds remaining. After Tennessee's Alton Howard fumbled at the pylon for a touchback to halt the Volunteers' overtime possession, Georgia's Marshall Morgan blasted a 42-yard field goal to help Georgia slip away with a 34-31 victory.

Let's take a quick look at how the Bulldogs earned the win.

It was over when: It was truly anybody's game until Morgan drilled the winning field goal. Tennessee had converted a number of fourth-down attempts, capitalized on big special-teams plays and found a rhythm against the Bulldogs' porous defense. But Howard's fumble gave the Bulldogs the break they had not enjoyed all game and Morgan's kick helped them survive the upset bid.

Gameball goes to: Murray. He started the game without injured All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley after losing top wideout Malcolm Mitchell in the opener. Then Keith Marshall went down early with a knee injury. Then receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley both left with injuries of their own. But somehow Georgia's quarterback drove his team for the tying score -- on a 2-yard pass to Wooten -- and did enough with his skeleton-crew offense to win.

Stat of the game: Georgia was 1-for-9 on third down before its final drive of regulation, but the Bulldogs converted three first downs on the final drive, including Murray's pass to Wooten for the tying score. Georgia finished 4-for-13.

Unsung heroes of the game: Freshman tailback J.J. Green took over when Marshall suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and propelled Georgia's running game with 17 carries for 129 yards in his first extensive playing time of his young career. His fellow freshman tailback Brendan Douglas deserves a nod for his key 32-yard catch that set up Wooten's game-tying touchdown.

What it means: Tennessee came within an eyelash of ending an 18-game losing streak against ranked opponents, but Georgia survived. The Bulldogs' status as the SEC East's overwhelming favorite is now in great doubt, however, after potentially serious injuries to Marshall, Bennett and Scott-Wesley on Saturday.

SEC Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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Not a ton of marquee games matching up ranked teams this week in the SEC, but some interesting matchups nonetheless, like Auburn-Ole Miss, Missouri-Vanderbilt and Arkansas-Florida, among others. Here are some statistical notes from around the league, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray is likely to become the SEC's career passing yardage leader on Saturday when the Bulldogs travel to Tennessee. He trails the current leader, former Georgia quarterback David Greene, by just 99 yards on the all-time SEC passing yardage list (Greene's record total is 11,528). Murray (11,249 passing yards) has never thrown for fewer than 109 yards in a game throughout his 45-game career.
  • Murray still needs 573 total offensive yards to catch former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (12,232 yards) who holds the SEC's career total offense record. Murray has 11,659 total offensive yards to his name.
  • LSU has done well to avoid allowing one loss turn into two. The Tigers, who lost to Georgia in a thriller last week, haven't lost consecutive SEC games since 2009. They haven't lost two games consecutively, regardless of opponent, since 2008. Under head coach Les Miles, LSU is 20-1 following a loss (including season openers after a loss to end the previous season).
  • This is the first time in LSU history that the team has scored at least 30 points in each of the first five games of the season.
  • South Carolina's 169 rushes are the most the Gamecocks have recorded through four games since Steve Spurrier was hired as their head coach prior to the 2005 season. They've rushed for at least 220 yards in each of those first four games and are averaging 5.32 yards per carry, which is tied for 24th in the country.
  • Spurrier has been extremely successful against the Gamecocks' opponent this week, Kentucky. He owns a 19-1 career record against Kentucky.
  • Florida's rushing defense is No. 1 nationally in yards allowed per game (53.5) and it is the only defense to hold every opponent to fewer than 75 rushing yards this season. The average AQ conference team hits opponents at or behind the line of scrimmage 42 percent of the time; Florida has done it 57 percent of the time this year. The Gators also allow the second-fewest yards before contact per game, with 15. Only Michigan State (12.8 yards allowed before contact per game) has a better average.
  • While Florida's run defense has been dominant, Arkansas' rushing attack has been superb. The Razorbacks are second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (237) and freshman Alex Collins leads the conference with 597 rushing yards this year. So it will be interesting to watch who wins the battle when Arkansas runs the football against the Gators.
  • Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is one of two quarterbacks in the FBS with at least 115 pass attempts and zero interceptions (Wallace has attempted 118 passes this year). Idaho's Chad Chalich is the only other player holding that distinction right now.
  • Auburn, which hosts Ole Miss, hasn't loss to the Rebels at home since 2003. The Rebels' quarterback that year? Eli Manning.
  • Alabama holds a 28-3 nonconference record under Nick Saban and is 21-0 in nonconference games since the start of the 2009 season. The Crimson Tide are also 13-1 all-time against current Sun Belt teams. The Tide host Sun Belt member Georgia State on Saturday.
  • Since taking over for injured quarterback Jeff Driskel, Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has a 96.1 QBR, which would be second in the FBS if he had enough snaps to qualify for the national rankings. But in nine fewer drives than Driskel, Murphy has guided the Gators to more touchdowns (seven to Driskel's five), fewer turnovers (three to Driskel's seven) and fewer three-and-out series (four to Driskel's eight). A healthy Matt Jones at running back certainly doesn't hurt Murphy in that regard, either.
  • Tennessee has lost 18 straight games to teams ranked in the Associated Press poll. The last win by the Volunteers over an AP top 10 team was in 2006 against Georgia in Athens. The Vols will get a crack at Georgia, currently ranked No. 6, at Neyland Stadium.
  • Mississippi State has lost 11 consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Bulldogs’ last win over such a team was in 2010 over then-No. 22 Florida. As for top 10 teams, which their opponent on Saturday (LSU) is, the Bulldogs haven't beaten one of those since Sept. 30, 2000 (then-No. 3 Florida).
  • A Kentucky loss to South Carolina would drop the Wildcats to a 1-4 start in back-to-back seasons. The last time that happened was 2004-05.
  • Missouri is the only school in the country currently with four players who have rushed for 215 yards or more this season. The quartet consists of: running backs Russell Hansbrough (335 yards), Henry Josey (238), Marcus Murphy (224) and quarterback James Franklin (215).
  • Vanderbilt senior kicker Carey Spear hit a 50-yard field goal against UAB last week to become the Commodores' first kicker to hit four field goals of 50 yards or better in his career. His career best was 54 yards against South Carolina on Sept. 14 and that's also the second-longest field goal by an SEC player this season (Georgia's Marshall Morgan hit a 55-yarder against LSU last week).
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.”

Five things: Georgia-North Texas

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
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Fresh off an open date, No. 9 Georgia (1-1) hosts North Texas (2-1) today in an important tune-up game with the bulk of the SEC schedule looming, starting next week with a visit from LSU. Here are five things we'll be watching once the teams kick off at 12:21 p.m.

Murray nears century mark: It would be a major upset if Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray doesn't surpass 100 career touchdown passes. After tossing four TDs in the Bulldogs' 41-30 win against South Carolina, Murray has 99 in his career. Florida's Danny Wuerffel (114) is the only quarterback in SEC history with 100 touchdown passes. North Texas ranks 94th nationally in pass defense, allowing Idaho, Ohio and Ball State to pass for an average of 267.3 yards per game.

Giveaway, takeaway: Georgia must start generating more turnovers, which has traditionally been a staple of a Todd Grantham defense. The Bulldogs have forced just two turnovers -- both fumbles -- and one of those came on special teams. Conversely, North Texas has been remarkably successful at forcing turnovers. The Mean Green is tied for first in the nation with 11 takeaways, having recovered seven of nine opponent fumbles and intercepted four passes.

Does defense get it together?: Grantham's defense struggled in the first two games, although it allowed just six points in the second half against South Carolina thanks to a goal-line stand and a forced fumble by Amarlo Herrera. Nonetheless, it might be a long season for the defense if its young contributors don't build off that second half against the Gamecocks. Georgia is second-to-last in the SEC in scoring and total defense at 34 points per game and 460.5 ypg allowed. The Bulldogs have just two sacks, which is tied for the second-fewest in the league.

Bring on the backups: Last time we checked, Georgia was nearly a five-touchdown favorite against the Mean Green. That means we should see Murray and other offensive stars like the SEC's leading rusher Todd Gurley (143 ypg) play sparingly once the Bulldogs take control -- so long as they actually do take control. After opening the season with demanding matchups against South Carolina and Clemson, Georgia's coaches should enjoy the opportunity to take their first long look at the freshmen and other backups in a game situation.

Welcome back: Today marks the return of Georgia's sophomore place-kicker Marshall Morgan, who was suspended for the first two games over an offseason arrest. He should reclaim the kickoff, PAT and field goal duties from Patrick Beless, who was 10-for-10 on PATs and 2-for-2 on attempted field goals. Morgan was 63-for-67 on PATs and 8-for-14 on field goals last year.

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Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.Tags: Trenton Thompson, Kerryon Johnson, Jeffery Holland, Martez Ivey, Torrance Gibson, Cece Jefferson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Gerry Hamilton
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