Georgia Bulldogs: ricardo louis

Here's a good way to survive the dog days of summer -- relive the glory of last year's best college football games.

ESPNU will count down the top 25 games and air all but four of them July 21-Aug. 3. Of course the SEC is well-represented. Game Nos. 6-25 have already been determined. Here's a look.

No. 23 -- Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42
Re-airdate: July 22, 7 p.m. ET
This Week 3 contest was a much-anticipated grudge match after Johnny Manziel and the upstart Aggies had upset the mighty Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2012. The return engagement had fireworks from the start, as A&M's 628 yards were the most given up in Alabama's history.

No. 20 -- Georgia 44, LSU 41
Re-airdate: July 23, 10 p.m. ET
Two teams ranked in the top 10 slugged it out to the tune of nearly 1,000 combined yards, as the quarterback performances by Georgia's Aaron Murray and former teammate Zach Mettenberger were among the best of their careers.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Ray
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsNick Marshall & Co. were involved in four of the season's top 25 games, including three within the top 4.
No. 17 -- Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41
Re-airdate: July 25, 7 p.m. ET
Looking back, this huge upset on the road might have fueled Auburn's amazing season. One year after being beaten 63-21 by the Aggies, the Tigers roared back to national prominence behind QB Nick Marshall and RB Tre Mason. The Auburn defense gave up more than 500 yards to Manziel but came through in the end to preserve the win.
No. 15 -- Georgia 34, Tennessee 31 (OT)
Re-airdate: July 28, 7 p.m. ET
Just think of how differently we would have viewed UT's season had the Vols pulled off this upset. Georgia withstood injuries and a determined Tennessee team, and rallied to tie the game with five seconds left when Murray found Rantavious Wooten for a touchdown. UT's Alton Howard fumbled a sure touchdown in overtime, which set up UGA's game-winning field goal.
No. 11 -- Ole Miss 39, Vanderbilt 35
Re-airdate: July 29, 10 p.m. ET
The opening game of the season set a clear tone for high-scoring offense and thrilling late-game heroics. Vandy raced to a 21-10 halftime lead and then gave up 29 points, including a back-breaking 75-yard touchdown run by Jeff Scott with just over a minute to play.
No. 7 -- South Carolina 27, Missouri 24 (OT)
Re-airdate: July 31, 10 p.m. ET
Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw came off the bench to score 17 fourth-quarter points to send this one into overtime, where the teams traded touchdowns before USC won it with a kick. Missouri was slapped with its first loss of the season, but the Tigers won the rest of their games and the SEC East crown.

Now we need your help choosing a top five, and again the SEC is prominent with four choices available. Voting ends Monday. If you need help deciding, here's how I would rank 'em.

No. 5 -- Texas A&M 52, Duke 48
Manziel penned a memorable swan song in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as the Aggies and Blue Devils piled up more than 1,200 yards of offense. Manziel passed for 382 yards and four touchdowns, ran for 73 yards and one TD, and led his team back from a 21-point halftime deficit.

No. 4 -- Florida State 34, Auburn 31
The Tigers' miracle season came crashing down when FSU rallied from an 18-point deficit, the largest ever overcome in a BCS championship game. A thrilling fourth quarter closed with Heisman winner Jameis Winston leading the Noles 80 yards in 66 seconds for the win.

No. 2 -- Auburn 43, Georgia 38
Any time a game evokes a nickname it has also earned a place in college football lore. This game got two of them -- "The Prayer at Jordan-Hare" and "The Immaculate Deflection" -- thanks to a 73-yard Hail Mary touchdown that Bulldogs safety Josh Harvey-Clemons tipped to Auburn's Ricardo Louis.

No. 1 -- Auburn 34, Alabama 28
Is there any doubt which game transcended the 2013 season into the history books? With his improbable, last-second, missed field-goal return, Chris Davis' 109-yard touchdown run -- the "Kick Six" -- was forever branded on the sport's collective consciousness.



We continue our breakdown of each position group in the SEC on Wednesday by looking at a group that might be low on name recognition but quite high -- and deep -- on talent.

Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jordan Matthews are all off to the NFL. Now a new group of playmakers is ready to emerge.

Who will be this season’s star pass-catchers? Let’s find out.

Wide receiver/tight end position rankings

1. Alabama: Like so many on this list, all of it depends on who is throwing the football. If Jacob Coker shows he can spin it, then Alabama will have the best group of pass-catchers in the SEC -- maybe the country. It isn’t just Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard, whom you will read about later this afternoon. Howard, who was underutilized in the passing game last year, is poised to have a breakout sophomore campaign. But there’s also veteran DeAndrew White, all-purpose star Christion Jones and depth that includes a litany of former blue-chip prospects.

2. Texas A&M: Too bad Johnny Manziel didn’t stay another year because he might have really enjoyed the guys he was throwing to. Malcome Kennedy, he of 60 receptions and seven touchdowns last season, isn’t even the most exciting receiver on the field. That honor belongs to one of two freshmen. Ricky Seals-Jones, who redshirted last season, would have reminded Manziel so much of Evans, an impossibly tall target who can go up and get the ball. And then there’s Speedy Noil, the No. 1 athlete in the 2014 class, who looks like a dangerous weapon at slot receiver. With tight end Cameron Clear working the middle of the field, the Aggies should be able to stretch the field effectively.

3. Georgia: How can you not like Chris Conley? Not only did he write and direct a "Star Wars" fan film, he’s also a pretty good receiver with 45 catches for 651 yards last season. Starting opposite him, if his health holds up, should be Malcolm Mitchell. The redshirt junior has loads of potential, as he was second on the team in receiving in 2011 and 2012. Throw in Jay Rome, one of the more underrated tight ends in the SEC, and that’s a good group for quarterback Hutson Mason to work with.

4. Auburn: Nick Marshall is progressing as a passer at the right time. His receiver corps, which looked thin at times last season, is set to make a big jump. Sammie Coates, Auburn’s leading man, has the potential to become much more than a speed demon who can run a nasty post. Ricardo Louis, Quan Bray and Marcus Davis are all guys who have shown flashes of talent. Then there’s D'haquille Williams, the former No. 1 junior college receiver. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound target has all the tools to become one of the best receivers in the SEC.

5. Ole Miss: Offensive coordinators love it when they can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Laquon Treadwell, who as a true freshman trailed only Jordan Matthews for the most receptions in the SEC last season, is the type of home-run threat to keep safeties on their heels. Evan Engram, who made a positive impression as a rookie himself before succumbing to injury, gives Ole Miss a one-two punch by demanding coverage in the middle of the field because he’s simply too athletic a tight end to be covered by most linebackers in the league.

6. South Carolina: They’re on the small side. Let’s get that part out of the way. There’s not a 6-3 or 6-5 receiver Dylan Thompson will be able to lob the ball to this season. But nonetheless, he’s got some options. Damiere Byrd is one of the fastest receivers in the SEC, and Pharoh Cooper is another guy who is dangerous with the ball in space. That’s not to mention Shaq Roland, who has All-SEC type talent. Though his 6-1 frame might not excite you, he’s one of those guys who can create separation and get the ball in traffic. If there’s one spot you’d like to see the Gamecocks progress, it’s at tight end. And with Jerell Adams and Rory Anderson, there’s potential to improve.

7. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen needs to find some playmakers on offense. Outside of running back, his ability to develop talent at receiver and tight end has been somewhat of a disappointment. This year could change that. Jameon Lewis has the upside of a poor man’s Percy Harvin, someone who can take it the distance any time he touches the football. De’Runnya Wilson, a 6-5 target with a hoops background, is just the type of over-the-top threat to play off the small, speedy Lewis. With a good group of running backs and a quarterback who can extend plays, expect more from the passing game in 2014.

8. Tennessee: Butch Jones has a lot to be excited about when it comes to his receivers this season. But until the status of Pig Howard is determined, that excitement is on hold. The talented receiver was forced to miss all of the spring with “personal issues.” If he can return and join Marquez North, it would make for a formidable one-two punch. Add top signee Josh Malone into the mix and whoever starts under center should be happy with what he’s working with. That said, without a single starter returning on the offensive line, time for the quarterback to throw downfield could be a big obstacle.

9. LSU: Yes, the team’s top two receivers are gone. Jarvis Landry and Beckham were both the real deal last season, accounting for 66 percent of all receptions. And, yes, LSU is replacing its quarterback, too. But we’re betting on potential here. Travin Dural and John Diarse have the tools to be starters in this league. And then there are the freshmen. LSU signed two the top three receivers in the 2014 class -- No. 1 Malachi Dupre and No. 3 Trey Quinn -- in addition to Jacory Washington, the No. 5 tight end in the country.

10. Florida: It’s time to prove it, Florida. We’ve heard for a few years now how the receivers were getting better. But last season was the same old story with no real playmakers on the outside. Maybe new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will change that. Demarcus Robinson seems in line for a big sophomore bump, along with Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson. With seniors Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose back, there’s a good amount of depth to lean on. But until we see consistent results from the Gators’ receivers, we’ll have to wait and see if this really is the year.

11. Missouri: Gary Pinkel had to let Dorial Green-Beckham go. But what a waste of talent it was. He would have easily been the most talented receiver in the SEC. Now his future, and that of Missouri’s offense, is up in the air as the Tigers fail to return any of their top three pass-catchers from last season. Seniors Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt are back, which helps, but more receivers will need to emerge to help Maty Mauk in the passing game.

12. Kentucky: Javess Blue quietly was one of the most productive receivers in the SEC last season, despite having little consistency at quarterback. Blue, now a senior, finished 14th in the league with 43 catches for 586 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll anchor a group that has some potential. Ryan Timmons, a former four-star prospect in the 2013 class, could break through after playing in all 12 games as a freshman. And as far as true freshmen go, look for Kentucky to lean on its 2014 class that includes Thaddeus Snodgrass, T.V. Williams, Dorian Baker and Blake Bone.

13. Arkansas: Someone needs to take the load off of Hunter Henry this season. Henry, who caught 28 passes and four touchdowns as a true freshman in 2013, stands to make up the majority of the Razorbacks passing game now that Javontee Herndon, the team’s leading receiver in 2013, is gone. So is Kiero Small, the fourth-leading receiver. The good news: Demetrius Wilson, who missed all of last season, returns. Wilson, a big target at 6-foot-3, could be a difference-maker.

14. Vanderbilt: You don’t replace Jordan Matthews. You don’t replace the man with the most career receptions in SEC history. Vanderbilt will try, but it’s going to be difficult. And it’s going to be even more of an uphill battle considering that Jonathan Krause, the team’s second-leading receiver, also is gone. With those two no longer on campus, look for C.J. Duncan and Jordan Cunningham to step up.
Running? Receiving? Fielding kicks? Those are all fine qualities to have. But what about the guys that do it all?

More and more offenses are moving away from the typical pro-style schemes and formations of generations past. A tight end isn’t just a tight end anymore. A running back isn’t just a running back. A wide receiver isn't … well, you get the point. Alabama’s O.J. Howard can put his hand on the ground at tight end or H-back, or he can split out at wide receiver. South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper is listed as a wide receiver, but he’s just as valuable a running back or return specialist for the Gamecocks. Jameon Lewis can line up at receiver, running back or quarterback for Mississippi State.

[+] EnlargeJameson Lewis
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisVersatile and dangerous weapons like Mississippi State's Jameon Lewis make plays no matter where they line up or how they get the ball.
Up and down the SEC, there are athletes who do it all on offense -- and sometimes special teams, too.

Often on the SEC Blog we rank the top players by each position for the coming year. But it’s time we give Mr. Versatile his due. With that said, here’s a look at the league’s top all-purpose offensive athletes in 2014.

Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina

Bruce Ellington will be missed, but don’t weep for the Gamecocks. It’s Pharoh Cooper to the rescue. Coach Steve Spurrier called Cooper a “natural talent.” His numbers as a true freshman were promising -- 655 all-purpose yards -- and enough to land him on the Freshman All-SEC team. But he could do even more as a sophomore. He’ll continue to factor into the return game, play wide receiver and even take some direct snaps at quarterback.

Christion Jones, Alabama

Alabama may not run the most inventive offense in the SEC, but it finds a way to get Jones the football. The lightning-quick senior has started at wide receiver and in the return game each of the past two seasons. He carried the ball 13 times for an average of 17 yards in 2013 and finished 14th in the SEC with in all-purpose yards per game (102.7). Additionally, he returned two punts and one kickoff for a touchdown last season.

Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State

Had Damian Williams been unable to play against Ole Miss, Dan Mullen would have turned to Lewis as his starting quarterback. Seriously. With Tyler Russell sidelined and Dak Prescott injured, the 5-foot-9 junior would have been forced under center. Thankfully that never happened, but it’s just a taste of Lewis’ versatility. The speedy Mississippi native is someone Mullen looks to get the ball in space, whether that’s at receiver, running back or quarterback. He not only led the team with 923 yards receiving, he finished fifth in rushing with 117 yards. All told, he had five receiving touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. He even threw three passes, completing all three attempts for touchdowns.

Ricardo Louis, Auburn

Last season’s Georgia game might have been a glimpse of the future for Louis. The former No. 5 athlete in the ESPN 300 broke out in a big way against the Bulldogs, rushing for 66 yards on five carries while catching four passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. Even before his memorable game-winning Hail Mary, he was a difference in the game. His ability to play both receiver and running back makes for a tough matchup for any defense. And with Tre Mason and Chris Davis gone from the return game, Louis could become a factor there as well.

[+] EnlargeSpeedy Noil
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comTexas A&M signee Speedy Noil, who was ranked as the No. 1 athlete in the 2014 class, could make an immediate impact.
Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

Too soon? Not after all we’ve heard coming out of College Station, Texas, about the talented true freshman. Noil may not be that No. 2 this fall, but he could conjure up memories of Johnny Football with his ability to make plays in space. The former five-star prospect and No. 1-rated athlete in the ESPN 300 drew rave reviews from coaches and teammates this spring. He’s already said to be the presumptive starter opposite Ricky Seals-Jones. Good luck covering those two as Seals-Jones is a monster at 6-5 and Noil is an elusive burner at 5-11. In addition to spending time at receiver, look for coach Kevin Sumlin to get Noil the ball in space wherever possible, whether that’s in the return game, at running back or even taking direct snaps at quarterback.

Five more to watch:

SEC's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
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Ten of the Top 25 tailgating schools reside in the SEC, including all of the top six. Does this surprise anyone?

Tale of the tape: Georgia-Nebraska

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- We learned on Sunday that No. 22 Georgia (8-4) would face Nebraska (8-4) in its bowl game for the second straight season. Let's take a closer look at the two teams in advance of the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, which will kick off at noon ET on New Year's Day and air on ESPN2.

Remembering last year: Georgia closed its 45-31 victory over the Cornhuskers in the Capital One Bowl with a 21-0 run -- featuring touchdown passes from Aaron Murray to Chris Conley of 49 and 87 yards, respectively. Murray torched a previously stellar Nebraska pass defense for 427 yards and five touchdowns and Todd Gurley ran for 125 yards and a score. Huskers running back Rex Burkhead (140 rushing yards and one TD plus 39 receiving and another score) and quarterback Taylor Martinez (204 passing yards, two touchdowns plus 46 rushing) had their moments, but Nebraska's porous defense let the its second-half lead slip away.

Who's under center?: Both of these teams featured a first-time starting quarterback in their last game. Hutson Mason led Georgia back from a 20-0 deficit to beat rival Georgia Tech in double overtime, passing for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The results weren't so positive for Ron Kellogg III in replacing Martinez. He passed for 199 yards, one touchdown and two picks and the Huskers lost 38-17 to Iowa.

Injury issues: The injuries to Murray and Martinez create perhaps the most glaring injury absences from last season's standouts, but both teams have struggled with physical ailments throughout the year. Martinez suffered a foot injury in the first game that hampered him initially and eventually shut him down by midseason. The Huskers also lost valuable offensive lineman Spencer Long and saw a number of other linemen deal with injuries, rendering a formerly dangerous offense ineffective. Sound familiar Georgia fans? Murray made it to the end of the season, but many of his most dangerous weapons did not. Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Keith Marshall all suffered season-ending knee injuries before midseason and All-SEC tailback Gurley led a big group of players who suffered multiple-game injuries.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIHow Georgia backup QB Hutson Mason does in comparison to Nebraska's backup QBs will be key in which team wins the Gator Bowl.
More similarities: It isn't just their matching 8-4 records, their having played in a bowl last season or their widespread injury problems that make these teams so similar. They have also dealt with similar problems throughout the season -- namely special teams ineptitude and ugly turnover margins. Nebraska is tied for 118th nationally with a minus-12 turnover margin (16 takeaways, 28 giveaways), while Georgia is not much better, tying for 97th with a minus-6 margin (14 takeaways, 20 giveaways).

Hailing Mary: Although it wasn't technically a “Hail Mary,” perhaps the most memorable play from Georgia's season came when Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall launched a 73-yard bomb into double coverage in the game's final minute, only to have Bulldogs safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons converge and deflect the ball to Tigers receiver Ricardo Louis, who caught it for the game-winning touchdown. Likewise, Northwestern was on its way to a 24-21 win over the Cornhuskers before third-string quarterback Kellogg's Hail Mary deflected backward to Jordan Westerkamp for the game-winning score.

Best wins: Nebraska doesn't have a win against a ranked team, but it beat Penn State (7-5) in overtime and edged Michigan (also 7-5) 17-13. Georgia started the season with wins against No. 9 South Carolina (10-2) and No. 16 LSU (9-3) in the first month. The Bulldogs also edged rivals Florida (4-8) and Georgia Tech (7-5).

Worst losses: No. 17 UCLA scored 31 unanswered points to beat Nebraska 41-21 in September. The Huskers also turned it over five times in a 41-28 loss to No. 4 Michigan State in mid-November. Georgia's narrow losses to No. 12 Clemson and No. 2 Auburn were painful, but the two-game midseason losing streak against No. 8 Missouri (41-26) and Vanderbilt (31-27) might have been worse because of the injuries that weakened the Bulldogs' offense in those games.

Offensive stars: Gurley (903 rushing yards, 10 TDs in nine games) and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (ninth nationally with 1,568 and 8 TDs) create an intriguing rushing matchup between two of the nation's best backs.

Defensive stars: Georgia inside linebacker Ramik Wilson leads the SEC and is 10th nationally with 128 tackles, plus he's tied for the team lead with 11 tackles for a loss. Junior college transfer Randy Gregory is a force on Nebraska's defense, leading the Huskers with 17 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries from his defensive end position.

X-factor: Quarterback composure will be worth watching. We know Mason will start for Georgia after leading the comeback against Georgia Tech, although he got off to a slow start in that game. Kellogg tossed two first-quarter interceptions in the disappointing loss to Iowa. Freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr., who has started seven games this season, could also get the starting nod against the Bulldogs. Regardless of who starts for the Huskers, the team whose inexperienced quarterback plays a steadier game could very well end up as the winner.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Amarlo Herrera isn't ready to assess Georgia's 2014 defense yet. Not when the Bulldogs still have to play a bowl game before this season is complete.

“We're not talking about that yet,” the Georgia linebacker said after last Saturday's double-overtime win against Georgia Tech. “The season's not over yet. But when the season gets over, we'll start talking about those things and people will remember these [comebacks against Auburn and Georgia Tech].”

Step one in the evolution of a defense that loses only one senior starter -- defensive lineman Garrison Smith -- will be to put together complete games, not just decent halves. Against both Auburn and Georgia Tech, in particular, disastrous starts forced the Bulldogs to mount dramatic rallies in the game's waning possessions.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
AP Photo/John BazemoreTray Matthews is one of 10 starters that should return on Georgia's defense next fall.
“We've got to stop coming off slow in the first half,” inside linebacker Ramik Wilson said. “We've got to finish, and that's what we've been doing in the second half.”

Wilson has a point. The starts were horrendous -- Auburn scored 27 points and Georgia Tech 20 before halftime -- but Georgia's defense was fairly solid in the second half of more than just those two dramatic comeback bids.

The Bulldogs were awful defensively for most of the first month of the season, with a 28-point second half by Tennessee in Game 5 perhaps ranking as the low point. But since then, Todd Grantham's defense has generally improved as the games progressed.

Since the Tennessee game, the Bulldogs allowed 10 second-half touchdowns in seven games -- half of those coming when opponent scoring started at the 50-yard line or closer because of errors by Georgia's offense or special teams. In the last month of the regular season, the Bulldogs allowed seven second-half points to both Georgia Tech and Kentucky, zero to Appalachian State and 16 to Auburn, although the final six came on a 73-yard Ricardo Louis touchdown catch for the game-winning score after Bulldogs safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews failed to bat down an off-target pass.

“We said it felt like it was like the Auburn game,” Herrera said of the Bulldogs' rally from a 20-0 deficit against Georgia Tech. “We just had to step up and we had to make plays real quick before it got ugly.”

The Tech game was already bordering on ugly before the Bulldogs salvaged it with their second-half rally. They argued afterward that the comeback was an example of their season-long persistence, even against long odds.

“Everybody knows about the tipped pass at Auburn and people wanted to know how we would bounce back off that. Well, we're 2-0 off that loss,” said sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson, who was victimized in coverage on several of Tech's biggest passes. “It's not about how you fall because you're going to fall in this game of football. You're going to fall many times. It's just you've got to get back up.

“Like for myself, to me I had a poor game, but how did I respond? I just tried to keep playing and show my teammates that I'm playing to get better on the next drive.”

The hope for Grantham and his staff is that the rocky moments that Dawson and many other youthful defenders experienced this season will become learning tools as they mature. The 2013 defense was simply not consistent enough, as its program-worst point (opponents averaged 29.4 ppg) and yardage (381.2 ypg) totals reflect, but there were occasional flashes of promise, as well.

He used the game-ending, fourth-down pass breakup to clinch the win against Georgia Tech as an example -- which easily could have been the third such key fourth-down stop by his defense had one of his safeties properly defended Auburn's last-gasp throw or had an official kept the flag in his pocket instead of incorrectly penalizing Wilson for targeting on a fourth-quarter pass breakup against Vanderbilt.

“That's the third fourth-down situation that we've had this year. We had one at Vandy, we had one at Auburn and we had one here,” Grantham said. “We've got a lot of young players on our team that will grow from it and they'll get confidence from it and we're going to develop them and move forward and win a bunch of games.”

The talent clearly exists for Grantham's projection to become reality. Harvey-Clemons, Matthews, outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, defensive end Ray Drew, Herrera and Wilson -- all of them should be back in 2014. If they and their defensive cohorts can perform with discipline that matches their physical capabilities, Georgia's defense could take a step forward next fall.

It's on Grantham and company to ensure that such progress occurs.

“Part of coaching and part of a program and part of being what we want to be, when it's going not the way you want it, you find a way to battle back,” Grantham said.

Reviewing a wild season of UGA football

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's season is obviously not over, as we'll learn the 8-4 Bulldogs' postseason fate sometime within the next week. But Saturday's double-overtime win against Georgia Tech put an exclamation point on easily the craziest regular season in Mark Richt's 13 seasons as Georgia's coach.

Let's look back over the season and recap some of the highs and lows:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray had a standout season until he joined the long list of Georgia injuries.
What might have been: There is not a single game this season where the Bulldogs did not play without at least one key player -- and by the Tech game, the injured list featured an all-star team of talent. Considering how receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin-Scott Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall suffered season-ending knee injuries before the midway point, quarterback Aaron Murray will miss the final two games with an ACL injury and that tailback Todd Gurley, receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett and tight end Jay Rome all dealt with multiple-game setbacks, it's a wonder that Georgia didn't go into a steeper tailspin than it did.

MVP: This has to go to Murray, who broke multiple SEC career passing records as a senior. The Kentucky game started out as a senior-night tribute to the four-year starter, only to see it end in heartbreak when he suffered the knee injury in the second quarter that ended his season. He returned for his senior season to win a championship, although injuries and a shaky defense prevented Murray from reaching that goal. Nonetheless, his leadership prevented what could have become a major mess when many of Georgia's best offensive skill players were missing in the middle of the season.

Wildest finish: There's no shortage of competition in this category, as Saturday's Tech game was only the most recent Georgia game that was decided in the closing moments. That's what happens when seven of your 12 games are decided by a touchdown or less. But the winner here has to be the Auburn game, when the Bulldogs rallied from a 20-point, fourth-quarter deficit to take a 38-37 lead on Murray's fourth-down touchdown scramble with 1:49 remaining. Murray's heroics were for naught, however, as Nick Marshall hit Ricardo Louis on a deflected 73-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining, after the pass somehow slipped through Georgia's Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews.

Surprise performer: Ramik Wilson. He was certainly not perfect -- particularly in pass coverage -- but Wilson became the SEC's tackles leader by playing nearly every important down and always hustling to the ball. He didn't make much of an impact in his first two seasons while rotating between inside and outside linebacker, but Wilson was a valuable contributor in leading the team with 128 tackles and tying with Jordan Jenkins for the team lead with 11 tackles for loss. He also made one of the Bulldogs' biggest defensive plays of the season when he deflected a Vad Lee pass in the second overtime against Georgia Tech, enabling Damian Swann to knock the ball away for the game-ending incompletion.

Worst defeat: The Auburn loss might have been more painful, but the 31-27 defeat at Vanderbilt was more avoidable. The Commodores outscored Georgia 17-0 in the fourth quarter -- a comeback expedited by a targeting flag on a fourth-quarter pass breakup by Wilson. The penalty was overturned upon review, but it still resulted in a first down and a 15-yard mark-off down to Georgia's 15-yard line, and eventually a Vandy touchdown. Georgia's ineptitude also contributed to the implosion -- including costly turnovers and an overall lack of aggression on offense -- which made it a particularly galling defeat.

Star in the making: Hutson Mason. Several players could figure in here -- Scott-Wesley, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and safety Harvey-Clemons immediately come to mind -- but this will almost certainly be Mason's team next season. He overcame a shaky start against Tech to lead the Bulldogs back to an overtime win by completing 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Let's keep in mind that it was the first start of his career, on the road, against arguably Georgia's biggest rival.

Biggest disappointment: We all knew the score when the season started. Georgia's defense lost almost every significant player from last season, minus defensive lineman Garrison Smith, inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera, outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and cornerback Swann. A reasonable expectation was for the group to struggle against a challenging early schedule and make rapid improvements as the season progressed. Only that improvement never truly occurred with any consistency. Georgia's defense is better off now than it was when the season started, but there is too much talent on that side of the ball for the Bulldogs to keep making the bone-headed mistakes that plagued them for too much of the season.

Biggest relief: The overtime win against Tennessee kept the Bulldogs in the top 10 for another week, but the rally from an early 20-0 deficit against Georgia Tech will likely be the one more Georgia fans remember. Richt has dominated the Yellow Jackets throughout his tenure, but things didn't look promising when Lee was picking apart Georgia's secondary and Mason and the offense were struggling. A second-quarter touchdown drive helped them to settle down, and they went on to deliver an emotional comeback victory.

Best performance: Gurley's four-touchdown performance against Tech (or his early touchdowns against Florida in his return from a month-long absence) would certainly qualify here. But let's go with one of two showings -- and you can't lose with either one -- by Murray against South Carolina or LSU. Murray faced consistent attacks that he shrunk in the spotlight during his early years, but he largely eliminated those criticisms this season. He was nearly perfect against South Carolina, ending the Gamecocks' three-game series winning streak by going 17-for-23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns. Two games later, he went 20-for-34 for four touchdowns and one interception, plus a rushing score, against LSU and hit Scott-Wesley with the game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass with 1:47 remaining.

Drama is all that Georgia knows

November, 30, 2013
11/30/13
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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.

Planning for success: Georgia

November, 21, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Sometimes generating a turnover is the result of a brilliant defensive scheme or excellent individual play, and sometimes other factors are in play.

“It's all about being in the right place at the right time. Turnovers is about like an Auburn catch at the end of the game -- sometimes they're luck, but you do have some kind of control over them as a defense,” joked Georgia defensive end Ray Drew, referring to the Tigers' 73-yard pass that bounced between two Bulldogs defenders and landed in Ricardo Louis' hands for the game-winning touchdown at the end of last Saturday's game.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRay Drew and the Georgia defense hope to get after Kentucky and force some turnovers.
The Bulldogs haven't had much good fortune in that department this season, which has been one of the most glaring differences from the turnover-happy defenses that tied for eighth nationally with 62 takeaways between the previous two seasons. Georgia has generated only nine turnovers -- last in the SEC and 121st nationally -- one more than Air Force and Eastern Michigan, which are tied for last in the FBS.

Obviously a helpful factor in Saturday night's game against Kentucky (2-8, 0-6 SEC) would be if the Bulldogs (6-4, 4-3) manage to change that trend, but the Wildcats have been surprisingly effective at taking care of the ball. Although their “Air Raid” offense averages just 349.2 yards and 21.5 points per game -- both totals that rank among the worst in the SEC -- the Wildcats entered last Saturday's game against Vanderbilt tied for second nationally with just seven giveaways.

“Most of the time the quarterback fumbles the most. But when you get the ball out as quick as they do and put it in space, there's not a lot of opportunities for that because runners don't fumble as much as the quarterbacks,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “A little bit of it is they're doing a good job of coaching it, and they're getting the ball out pretty quick and protecting it.”

Last weekend's loss to Vanderbilt saw that season-long trend come to at least a temporary end. Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow threw four interceptions in the 22-6 loss to the Commodores after tossing just one in the Wildcats' first nine games.

Whitlow is also a talented runner, so containing him -- and perhaps forcing him to make mistakes that allowed Vandy to pull away for a win last week when Kentucky largely controlled the first three quarters – will be a main objective for Georgia this week.

“If the head comes off the body, the body dies, basically. So the quarterback is basically the head of the team,” Drew said. “If you can play at an uptempo pace, which I know they like to do, try to rattle them while they're trying to rattle you, as well, get in their head a little bit, it'll throw them off. It's a two-way street.

“So if you're well-prepared as far as doing your assignments, playing the way you're supposed to be playing no matter how fast the tempo is, that might throw them off because they're not expecting you to be ready.”

Looking at other memorable SEC plays

November, 18, 2013
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They will be talking about Nick Marshall’s miraculous 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis on the Plains for a long time.

As Hail Marys go, that one has to be right there at the top. But where does that play rank among some of the more thrilling and/or memorable ones in SEC history?

[+] EnlargeRicardo Louis
Shanna LockwoodRicardo Louis' catch will live in SEC lore.
Here’s a look at a few more that will live eternally, and we’ve listed them chronologically.

Obviously, there are countless others. Let us know what we’ve missed.

  • Oct. 31, 1959: Billy Cannon’s tackle-breaking 89-yard punt return on Halloween night stands as one of the most famous plays in college football history. It was the only touchdown scored that game, lifting No. 1 LSU to a 7-3 win over No. 3 Ole Miss in Baton Rouge.
  • Dec. 2, 1967: Alabama quarterback Ken Stabler’s 47-yard touchdown to beat Auburn 7-3 is known simply as “The Run in the Mud.” The game was played in a driving rainstorm, and Stabler saved the Tide that day with his scamper around right end in what was a quagmire of a field.
  • Dec. 7, 1972: Known as the “Punt, Bama, Punt” game, Auburn’s Bill Newton blocked two Alabama punts in the fourth quarter, both returned for touchdowns by David Langner to lead the Tigers to a 17-16 win over the previously unbeaten and heavily favored Crimson Tide. Langner’s game-winning score came in the final minute and a half.
  • Jan. 1, 1979: Who can forget Barry Krauss’ fourth-down, midair stop of Penn State’s Mike Guman just inches short of the goal line in the Sugar Bowl? It’s one of the most memorable defensive plays in Alabama’s storied history and preserved a 14-7 win over the Nittany Lions, leading to the first of two straight national titles for the Tide.
  • Sept. 6, 1980: It was the day Herschel Walker was introduced to the college football world. He ran over Bill Bates at the goal line on the first of two touchdown runs in his freshman debut, rallying Georgia to a 16-15 win over Tennessee in Knoxville and setting the stage for the Bulldogs’ national championship run.
  • Nov. 1, 1980: Mississippi State snapped Alabama’s 28-game winning streak with a 6-3 win over the Tide in Jackson, Miss. With the Tide threatening in the final seconds on first-and-goal from the 4, the Bulldogs got a huge defensive play to secure one of the more memorable upsets in SEC history. Tyrone Keys darted through and forced Alabama quarterback Don Jacobs to fumble on an option play, and Billy Jackson was there to recover for Mississippi State. Afterward, Bear Bryant came into the Mississippi State locker room to congratulate the Bulldogs.
  • Nov. 8, 1980: This one also has its own name, “Run, Lindsay, Run.” Lindsay Scott’s 93-yard touchdown catch and run on third-and-8 from Georgia’s own 7 allowed the Bulldogs to pull out a 26-21 win over Florida in the final seconds in Jacksonville and keep alive their national championship season.
  • Oct. 8, 1988: There aren’t many touchdowns that lead to earthquakes, but Tommy Hodson’s game-winning 11-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Fuller on fourth down in LSU's 7-6 victory over Auburn registered vibrations on a seismograph in the LSU geology department.
  • Dec. 5, 1992: Antonio Langham returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown with 3:15 to play in the inaugural SEC championship game, leading Alabama to a 28-21 win over Florida and setting the stage for the Tide’s national championship victory over Miami in the Sugar Bowl.
  • Nov. 14, 1998: Clint Stoerner’s stumble and fumble after it appeared all Arkansas had to do was run out the clock in the final 1:43 gave Tennessee new life, and the Vols zipped in for the game-winning touchdown to stay unbeaten and keep alive their 1998 national championship season in miraculous fashion.
  • Nov. 9, 2002: Yep, another one with a nickname, “The Bluegrass Miracle.” Marcus Randall threw a desperation 75-yard touchdown pass that was batted around and caught by Devery Henderson as time expired, lifting LSU to a 33-30 win over Kentucky in Lexington.
  • Nov. 16, 2002: David Greene threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Michael Johnson on fourth-and-15 with 1:25 to play, giving Georgia a 24-21 win over Auburn on the Plains and paving the way for the Bulldogs’ first SEC championship in 22 years.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
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Nothing was hotter this past weekend than the dramatic ending of that Auburn-Georgia game. Elsewhere in the SEC, though, it wasn’t quite as toasty.

Here’s a look at our Week 12 version of Hot and Not in the SEC:

GLOWING EMBERS

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
AP Photo/Dave MartinGus Malzahn already has engineered a seven-win turnaround from 2012's 3-9 debacle.
Auburn’s magical ride: Sometimes, it’s just meant to be. Call it miraculous. Call it lucky. Call it whatever you want. But Nick Marshall’s batted 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis in the final seconds Saturday, lifting Auburn to an improbable 43-38 win over Georgia, kept this magical ride going for the Tigers. They’ve now won seven straight games and will take on No. 1 Alabama in two weeks in the Iron Bowl with the SEC's Western Division championship on the line. Is this really the same team that didn’t win an SEC game a year ago and was outscored 150-21 in its last three SEC contests? That’s an easy answer … no. Gus Malzahn and his veteran staff have come in and restored everything that had seemingly vanished from a program that won a national championship only three years ago. There was certainly more talent on this team than last season’s 3-9 record would suggest, but the difficult part for Malzahn was restoring the Tigers' edge after they went belly-up last season. It's safe to say he has done that. And before anybody says Auburn has been more lucky than good, show me just about any championship team and I’ll show you a team that has had some luck along the way. This team believes right now, and we’re in store for one epic Iron Bowl on the Plains in two weeks.

HOT

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: He has been around for so long that we’ve probably all taken him for granted, but Murray is one class act and one terrific football player. He did everything he could to bring Georgia back from the dead in the fourth quarter against Auburn. The fifth-year senior has been a rock all season for the Bulldogs despite crippling injuries around him and has exuded class every step of the way.

NOT

Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell: The Bulldogs’ senior quarterback hasn’t been able to catch much of a break this season. He suffered a concussion in the opener and had to miss several games, eventually losing the starting job to Dak Prescott. This past weekend, Russell got another shot against Alabama after Prescott was unable to play because of a shoulder injury, but Russell wasn’t able to finish the game after hurting his shoulder while trying to make a tackle following his fourth-quarter interception.

HOT

Florida’s grit: Nobody is happy in Gator Nation right now, and that starts with coach Will Muschamp. But there’s something to be said for the way Florida fought its guts out Saturday in a tough 19-14 loss to South Carolina. The Gators were down to their third-string quarterback and had an excellent chance to win the game on the road against a top-15 team.

NOT

Preseason rankings: Florida, Georgia and LSU all started the season ranked in the top 12 of the Associated Press poll. As we head into Week 13, those three teams have a combined 13 losses, and LSU still has to face Texas A&M at home this weekend.

HOT

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyJordan Matthews had a season-high 12 receptions as Vanderbilt reached bowl eligibility with a victory over Kentucky.
Vanderbilt: We all know Vanderbilt coach James Franklin doesn’t like to talk about bowl games, but we will. Thanks to the Commodores’ 22-6 victory over Kentucky last weekend, fueled by 12 catches for 141 yards from senior receiver Jordan Matthews, they’re now headed to a bowl game for the third straight season. For perspective, Vanderbilt had been to only four bowl games in its history before Franklin arrived. The Commodores also have a chance to get to nine wins for the second straight season if they can win out over Tennessee, Wake Forest and their bowl opponent.

NOT

Alabama’s focus: Good thing the Crimson Tide’s defense came to play Saturday in Starkville. And good thing the Tide were playing Mississippi State. Against a more talented team, Alabama would have been toast. Four turnovers going forward will mean an end to their national championship run. OK, maybe not this weekend against Chattanooga, but certainly against Auburn in two weeks and any other games after that. Something says this week in practice won’t be a lot of fun for the Tide.

FREEZER BURN

Fans’ patience: It's that time of year again when they’re lining up at the town square. That's a reference to Bobby Bowden’s classic line regarding fans' impatience when a football team or a unit on a football team starts to struggle. Bowden would always say, "They want a hanging at the town square." With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, it's safe to say there are more than a few restless fan bases around the SEC. It remains to be seen who's really in trouble. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley insists that Muschamp will be back for a fourth season, but it's difficult to see Muschamp's offensive staff returning intact. Mississippi State fans aren't thrilled with Dan Mullen right now, and that's despite the Bulldogs still having a chance to go to a fourth straight bowl. The Georgia fans are furious over the way the defense has played this season, although given the Bulldogs' youth, it was obvious they were going to struggle on that side of the ball. If LSU loses to Texas A&M this weekend there could be grumbling on the Bayou about Les Miles. Even first-year coaches aren’t spared. Arkansas has lost seven straight under Bret Bielema, and the fans in the Ozarks are wondering how they could go from 21 wins in 2010 and 2011 to 15 losses in the past two seasons. In this league, there is no equity and even less patience.

UGA, Kentucky both look to bounce back

November, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Given the way they finished in their most recent outings, it would be understandable if both Georgia and Kentucky have difficulty getting up for Saturday's game in Athens. Because at this point, neither team has much to play for aside from pride.

[+] EnlargeRicardo Louis
Shanna LockwoodRicardo Louis' catch deprived Georgia of any chance at winning the SEC East. Can the Dawgs rebound and play well against Kentucky?
“We need to be able to bounce back,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team's dramatic fourth-quarter rally went for naught when No. 6 Auburn completed a 73-yard Hail Mary in the final minute to win 43-38. “Kentucky had a tough loss, too, so both teams have to shake it off and get back ready to compete. That's the nature of the business and the nature of the game of football or competitive sports, period. You lose and you've got a game the next week or the next day, depending on the sport, and you've got to shake it off and get back to work.”

Kentucky (2-8, 0-6 SEC) did indeed suffer a difficult defeat, falling 22-6 at Vanderbilt to drop its 14th consecutive conference game. The Wildcats outgained the Commodores 246-172 through three quarters, but Vandy dominated the fourth, enjoying a 141-16 yardage advantage and scoring 13 unanswered points to earn the victory.

But that was just a run-of-the-mill loss compared to the gut-wrenching circumstances by which Georgia lost. The Bulldogs were on the verge of getting blown out early, only to slowly creep back into the game. Then Aaron Murray and the Georgia offense caught fire late, scoring three straight touchdowns and rolling up 216 yards of offense in the fourth quarter alone, only to have Ricardo Louis grab a deflected pass and score the game-winning touchdown on a fourth-down, desperation heave by Nick Marshall.

The loss eliminated Georgia (6-4 overall, 4-3 SEC) from contention in the SEC East and forced the Bulldogs to focus on lesser goals instead of representing the division for a third straight season in the SEC championship game.

“The season isn't over with. We will approach it just like any other game,” said Rantavious Wooten, one of seven seniors who started against Auburn, along with fellow receiver Rhett McGowan, Murray, offensive linemen Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee, and tight end Arthur Lynch. “It's going to be my last game in Sanford Stadium, so we will have to talk to the young guys and tell them to keep the faith and keep fighting.”

There is also the matter of reaching the best bowl possible. Although Georgia's options aren't particularly promising -- the majority of Sunday's bowl projections favor the Bulldogs to play in either the Gator or Music City bowls -- that possibility was off the table for Kentucky weeks ago.

The Wildcats, however, have given Georgia fits in recent years, so the Bulldogs likely can't afford a flat effort. Georgia is 5-2 against Kentucky dating back to a 24-20 loss in Lexington in 2006 -- one of four times in that seven-game stretch where the outcome has been decided by seven points or less.

Considering how Georgia has struggled to finish off opponents -- Saturday was only the most recent heart-stopper for a Bulldogs team that is setting an historically bad pace on defense -- that has to be a cause for concern.

In fact, Georgia's defensive shortcomings were the subject of multiple questions Richt faced on his Sunday teleconference, as Todd Grantham's defense is on pace to set new program marks for most points allowed and most yards allowed.

The 2009 team surrendered 337 points, which is a program high for a season of 12-plus games. This year's team, which is surrendering 30.2 points per game, has already allowed 302 points with three games to play (Kentucky, Georgia Tech and a bowl game). Likewise, the 2013 Bulldogs are on pace to surrender 5,029.7 yards -- potentially just the second time in school history that Georgia allowed 5,000-plus yards after last season's bunch surrendered 5,009 in 14 games.

“Here's what I say: I say we're a team here at Georgia and we're going to keep coaching and keep trying to make improvements and corrections on everything we do, in all phases of the game,” Richt said when asked to rate his level of satisfaction with the defensive coaching staff's performance.

Such a response is common under these circumstances for Richt, who is rarely willing to discuss his concerns publicly. Grantham's defense is preparing to face teams that rank 104th (Kentucky, 349.2 yards per game) and 53rd (Georgia Tech, 432.2) nationally in total offense, so the Bulldogs should have an opportunity to improve their underwhelming defensive stats before the season ends.

It would be much easier to focus on such necessary improvements had safeties Tray Matthews or Josh Harvey-Clemons managed to knock down Auburn's last-gasp touchdown pass to preserve Georgia's comeback win. The Bulldogs would still be alive in the East race and would have a third win against a top-10 opponent this season instead of grasping at less-appealing methods to motivate themselves for their home finale against Kentucky.

That's Richt and company's unique challenge this week after a defeat that could naturally cause lingering dejection -- and the coach said he plans to focus on the positive as best he can.

“We've got to do a good job of, again, pointing out all the positive things that happened and building on those types of things, because there were a lot of tremendous things that happened in the game,” Richt said. “And then make sure we learn from whatever mistakes we had, correct them, have a plan for that, and then we have to get the new game plan in.”

What we learned in the SEC: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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Wow. What a Saturday. How do you top that?

Fortunately, there are still things to be decided and big games remaining in the SEC. But in the meantime, let's look back at the storylines and what we learned in the league from Saturday’s action:

Just when you think you've seen it all ... guess again. The ending to Auburn versus Georgia will be talked about for a long time to come. People still talk about the "Bluegrass Miracle" when Devery Henderson caught a game-winning 74-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Randall to help LSU stun Kentucky with no time remaining back in 2002, but the "Miracle on the Plains" had a similar feel, only with much higher stakes. Auburn still has a chance at an SEC title if it can win out; Georgia was still holding out hope it could find its way into a tie for the SEC East title. But Nick Marshall's desperation heave on fourth-and-18 wound up bouncing off a Georgia defender (two had a shot to intercept it or knock it down) and into the hands of Ricardo Louis, who walked in for the improbable game-winning score. This really is a dream season for Auburn, considering where the Tigers were at this time a year ago.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/Butch DillIt wasn't always pretty, but AJ McCarron and Alabama did enough to win against Mississippi State.
Alabama can win when not at its best: Saturday was a big-time gut check for the No. 1 Crimson Tide. After their destruction of LSU last week, it seemed all but a formality that they would walk into the BCS title game, but Mississippi State gave them all they could handle. Championship teams have to deal with that and have to win when they're not performing at peak level. That's what happened to Alabama, which got it done, on the road.

It wasn't pretty, but a win's a win for SC: Considering how beaten up Florida is, it's easy to say that South Carolina should have cruised by the Gators. The Gamecocks didn't, having to squeak out a 19-14 victory, but it doesn't matter, because they've done all they can do to this point. Their conference schedule is wrapped (the Gamecocks are 6-2) and all they can do is sit and wait to see if Missouri wins out and clinches the division, or falters and drops a game. The loss Georgia suffered means South Carolina doesn't have to worry about the Bulldogs, and if Mizzou loses, the Gamecocks head to the SEC title game.

Vanderbilt's pretty good in November: At least under James Franklin, that is. The Commodores took care of business against Kentucky, winning 22-6 to make them bowl eligible for the third straight year. Pre-Franklin, Vanderbilt appeared in just four bowl games. Since Franklin took over, Vanderbilt is 8-2 in November and has won seven straight in the month dating back to 2011. The Commodores are hoping to finish like they did last season, when they won five consecutive games. A bonus for the Commodores: Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels returned from injury and went 19-of-24 for 184 yards while wearing a brace on his left knee.

It's going to be a fun finish: Who knew Auburn would be playing for something come the Iron Bowl? Nobody had Missouri winning the SEC East, which the Tigers have a chance to do. There are players in the conference still gunning for the Heisman Trophy, namely Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has a date with LSU waiting (and one at Mizzou after that). No matter what you do, hold on to your hats because it could be a wild finish in these last few weeks, if Saturday was any indication.

What we learned: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Here are three things we learned in Georgia's 43-38 loss against Auburn on Saturday.

East's out of the picture: Among the many crushing aspects of Saturday's loss, one of the biggest is that Georgia (6-4, 4-3 SEC) is no longer in the running for the SEC East title. Even with a win against its oldest rival, Georgia needed a lot of help to win the division for a third straight season. But now it doesn't matter. Mark Richt's staff will have to motivate the Bulldogs over the final two games against Kentucky and Georgia Tech without the opportunity to discuss a rematch with Alabama in Atlanta or a potential BCS bowl game. The Bulldogs now must work to make the best-possible mid-level bowl game.

Auburn's happy to see Murray go: As vicious as Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was in the previous two wins against Auburn, it looked like Saturday's might have been the most deflating for the Tigers. They were dominating the game in virtually every facet until Murray led Georgia to three straight touchdowns, taking a 38-37 lead with his touchdown scramble in the closing minutes. Auburn won with a miracle pass in the final minute, but Murray had a hand in four touchdowns and totaled 452 yards of offense on Saturday. He finishes his career with a 2-2 mark against Auburn.

It's just not their year: First, it was the series of injuries that took the oomph out of Georgia's offense at midseason, but this might have been just as big of a kick in the gut. Safeties Tray Matthews' and Josh Harvey-Clemons' inability to knock down Auburn's last-gasp pass resulted in the game-winning 73-yard touchdown. Fans from both sides will remember this play for years, as Georgia had rallied from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to take a one-point lead before the play. And yet somehow Ricardo Louis caught the deflected pass to keep Auburn's dream season alive. This felt like a season in which Georgia could have contended for a BCS title in September, but instead the Bulldogs have four losses with two games to go in the regular season.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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Here are five players (or groups) from around the SEC who earned helmet stickers with their performances on Saturday.

Nick Marshall and Ricardo Louis (and Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons): Let's be clear. It was nothing more than a 1-in-1-million occurrence that allowed Louis to catch a 73-yard pass from Marshall, deflected between Matthews and Harvey-Clemons, to score the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds remaining on Saturday. But the Tigers scored that touchdown, and kept their SEC championship hopes alive in the process. Marshall finished the day with 229 passing yards against his old team, plus 89 rushing yards and two more scores. And Louis had 131 receiving yards, 66 rushing yards and two touchdowns. It was certainly a winning combination.

Aaron Murray: The Georgia quarterback's ridiculous second half will fade in relevance over time, but the only reason Marshall even needed to complete the last-minute touchdown pass to Louis was because Murray carried his team into the lead in the second half. Georgia stunk it up in the first half, but Murray rallied the Bulldogs to a 38-37 lead with 1:49 to play after trailing by 20 points early in the fourth quarter. Murray finished with 415 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while also rushing for 37 yards and two more scores -- including a diving go-ahead touchdown in the closing minutes -- although Auburn's Hail Mary minimized the importance of Georgia's rally.

Alabama's defense: By this point, this should be obvious. The reason anyone is talking about AJ McCarron contending for the Heisman Trophy is that we can't collectively give it to his defense. Alabama turned the ball over four times Saturday against Mississippi State -- including two interceptions from McCarron -- but the defense allowed just seven points and 197 total yards. Heck, State's one touchdown came on a fumble forward into the end zone. Alabama led 10-7 at one point in a mediocre third quarter, but the defense didn't allow things to get truly scary. McCarron should be taking THOSE guys out to dinner this week.

Jordan Matthews: The Vanderbilt receiver caught 12 passes for 141 yards, becoming the first Commodores wideout to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and rushed twice for 31 yards in Vandy's 22-6 win over Kentucky. He's within three catches of former Vandy receiver Earl Bennett's SEC record of 236 career catches. And the Commodores (6-4) are bowl eligible for three straight years for the first time in program history -- thanks in large part to the contributions from their senior receiver.

Elliott Fry: I almost went with Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace here -- his four touchdowns in Ole Miss' 751-yard effort against Troy were impressive -- but place-kicker Fry's four field goals in Saturday's 19-14 win against Florida were much more important. The Gators led 14-13 entering the fourth quarter on Saturday, but Fry knocked down a 22-yard kick with 6:43 remaining and a 43-yard field goal with 2:16 to play to extend the Gamecocks' lead to five points. Fry went 4-for-5 on field goals Saturday and hit his only PAT as South Carolina put pressure on Missouri to claim the SEC East title.

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