Georgia Bulldogs: Nick Chubb

No. 11 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) seems to be cruising to an SEC East title, and it has definitely cruised lately in the Florida-Georgia series -- an annual meeting in Jacksonville that the Bulldogs once dreaded.

Georgia has won three in a row against the Gators (3-3, 2-3), matching its longest winning streak in the series since its six-game streak from 1978-83.

Can they extend the streak and perhaps put the final nail in Will Muschamp’s coffin as Florida’s coach? Here are four key factors and storylines as we approach kickoff:

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/Getty ImagesThe Gators have never beaten Georgia during Will Muschamp's tenure as head coach.
Coaching hotseat: Conventional wisdom has this being Muschamp’s final chance to save his job at Florida, which is not exactly a new storyline in this series.

Florida coach Ron Zook was fired during the week of the 2004 Florida-Georgia game and nearly led his team to an upset win against No. 7 Georgia. The Bulldogs led 24-7 early before Florida rallied to make it 24-21 early in the fourth quarter. Georgia had to recover a late onside kick and run out the clock to seal a 31-24 win.

On the Georgia side, who knows whether Mark Richt and his staff would still be in place were it not for their 2011 win in Jacksonville. To that point, Richt was 2-8 against the Gators and had nearly lost the fan base after starting that season with losses to Boise State and South Carolina.

Some program insiders thought the Richt regime would not survive another loss to Florida, but it never came to that. The Bulldogs connected on fourth-down touchdown passes to Michael Bennett and Tavarres King, took the lead on a Richard Samuel touchdown run in the fourth quarter and built momentum that carried UGA to its first SEC East title since 2005.

Maybe Georgia covers the double-digit spread on Saturday, but remember that teams with coaches on the hotseat typically refuse to roll over in this series.

Turning to Treon: Freshman quarterback Treon Harris will make his first career start against Georgia -- mostly because Jeff Driskel (97-183, 928 yards, 6 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) has been atrocious and partially because Harris has injected some much-needed life into the Gators’ stagnant offense when he has come off the bench.

Harris (12-18, 263 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception) generated instant buzz when he went 2-for-2 for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the Gators’ opening rout of Eastern Michigan, but has played only intermittently since then. He split time with Driskel in Florida’s last game, a 42-13 loss to Missouri, and led the Gators to two late scores. It seems to be his job now, so Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has surely designed schemes to confuse the rookie.

The Bulldogs frequently blitz opposing quarterbacks, with defensive back Damian Swann (two sacks, five quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles) and linebacker Amarlo Herrera (three sacks, five hurries) making several big plays as extra rushers.

Florida versus the run: Harris versus Georgia’s defense is certainly the key matchup, but a close second is Florida’s rushing defense against Nick Chubb and the Bulldogs’ backfield.

The Gators likely believe this is their saving grace since they rank 12th nationally in total defense (317.3 ypg) and No. 22 against the run (117.7 ypg), but those numbers are somewhat deceptive. Florida has faced two offenses that rank in the nation’s top 50 in rushing offense -- Alabama and LSU -- and both ran effectively against the Gators. Alabama had 52 carries for 223 yards in a blowout win over Florida and LSU ran 50 times for 195 yards and three scores in a 30-27 win.

Even with this week’s news that Todd Gurley will not play for Georgia, the Bulldogs still figure to pound the run with Chubb and Brendan Douglas. Since Gurley was suspended prior to the Missouri game, Chubb is averaging 34 carries per game and 172.5 rushing yards per game.

If Florida devises a way to slow down the UGA freshman, it has a chance to win. So far, nobody has done that.

Turnover battle: If quarterback Hutson Mason (10 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) and Georgia continue to protect the football the way they have thus far, it’s difficult to envision Florida pulling the upset.

No team has committed fewer turnovers (four) than Georgia or surrendered fewer points off turnovers (three). Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have scored 55 points off 17 takeaways and rank sixth nationally with a plus-52 points-off-turnovers margin.

Driskel was a turnover dispenser, so it will be interesting to see whether Harris fares any better in his first college start. The Gators have turned it over 16 times (five fumbles and 11 interceptions) and are tied for 75th nationally with a minus-6 points-off-turnover margin (they’ve scored 48 points after turnovers and given up 54).

That trend looks like a huge advantage for Georgia, but the Bulldogs have to force mistakes from the freshman and continue to capitalize like they have in the past. Georgia has scored a defensive touchdown in three of the last four games. Another play like that might bury the Gators.


By the end of the day Saturday, there might be a clear front-runner in the SEC East race -- and that team will likely be the winner of the matchup between No. 13 Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC) and No. 23 Missouri (4-1, 1-0).

With help from ESPN Stats & Information, let's take a look at key factors in Saturday's game in Columbia:

No Gurley, what now?: By now it's no secret that Georgia's offense will operate without the dominant running ability of tailback Todd Gurley (94 carries, 773 yards, 8 TDs, SEC-high 154.6 rushing yards per game). The guy was a Heisman Trophy front-runner for good reason, but now Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo must assemble a game plan against Missouri for the second straight year without his most potent weapon.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia will miss the unique ability of Todd Gurley (above) to gain yards after contact, but freshman Nick Chubb is a suitable replacement.
The Bulldogs played without injured backs Gurley and Keith Marshall last season and actually fared OK on the ground against Missouri. Then-freshmen J.J. Green (12 carries, 87 yards) and Brendan Douglas (14-70) enjoyed success on the ground against Mizzou last season and Georgia now must turn to Plans B, C and D against the Tigers again.

Green is now playing defense, so he's out of the picture. But Nick Chubb provides a fairly decent resemblance to Gurley. The freshman (31-224, 7.2 yards per carry) is Georgia's second-leading rusher behind Gurley. Marshall and Sony Michel remain sidelined by injuries, so Chubb and Douglas (sixth on the team with 47 rushing yards in limited duty) might be in line for the biggest workloads out of the backfield -- particularly Chubb.

About one of every five of Chubb's carries (six out of 31) has gone for at least 10 yards, and he's averaging 3.77 yards after contact per carry, which isn't much worse than Gurley's 3.9 YAC -- the best among all Power 5 backs with at least 50 carries. Nonetheless, Gurley's absence is devastating for Georgia and will require massive adjustments late in the week in order for the Bulldogs to get out of Columbia with a win.

One thing that helps the Bulldogs' cause is that Missouri's defense has had mixed results against the run.

Indiana ran 50 times for 241 yards and three touchdowns in its upset win over the Tigers. Hoosiers running back Tevin Coleman averaged 3.95 yards after contact per run that day en route to rushing 19 times for 132 yards and a score. As we've already discussed, YAC is one of power runner Chubb's trademarks, so Missouri tacklers are going to have to bring it Saturday. He's not Gurley, but he ain't bad, either.

Mizzou pass rush: Although Georgia has been more run-heavy compared to recent seasons -- the team is running the ball 64 percent of the time this season compared to 51 percent in 2013 -- the Bulldogs need to produce more in the passing game with Gurley out of the picture.

And Missouri -- particularly star defensive linemen Shane Ray and Markus Golden -- would be perfectly happy to see the Bulldogs try to air it out. Ray ranks second in the FBS and leads the SEC with eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. Golden is third in the SEC with four sacks and fifth with 6.5 tackles for loss.

Georgia fans might remember Ray as the pass-rusher who laid a crushing hit on quarterback Aaron Murray last season, forcing a fumble that Mizzou end Michael Sam scooped up and ran in for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 28-10 lead.

Ray had two sacks for a loss of 14 yards in the Tigers' comeback win against South Carolina. Between Ray, Matt Hoch and Harold Brantley, Mizzou had four sacks for 37 yards of lost ground for the Gamecocks.

More good news for Mizzou: It hasn't needed to blitz in order to generate effective pressure. Since the start of last season, the Tigers have 50 sacks when sending four pass-rushers or fewer, the most of any Power 5 school.

QB comparison: Georgia and Missouri both expected more productivity from the quarterback position than what they've gotten so far.

The issue might be slightly more alarming with Mizzou's Maty Mauk (1,110 passing yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs), whom many college football analysts expected to have a big season. Thus far, Mauk has a 47.1 score in ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating, which is the third-worst in the SEC and more than 30 points lower than his 77.9 from last season.

Third down in particular has been an issue for the Mizzou QB. Mauk is completing an SEC-low 38.1 percent of his third-down passes and ranks 10th among SEC quarterbacks in conversion percentage (29 percent).

Georgia's beleaguered secondary is vulnerable to a strong passing attack, but will Mauk -- whose breakout game last season was against Georgia -- take advantage? That might be the determining factor in Saturday's game. The Bulldogs are in the middle of the SEC pack in pass defense (seventh at 223 YPG), but they have surrendered 284 passing yards and three touchdowns in a shootout win against Tennessee, and 271 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout loss to South Carolina. Doing a better job against Mauk, receiver Bud Sasser (fourth in the SEC with averages of six catches and 90.8 yards per game), and the rest of Mizzou's receivers would greatly improve Georgia's chances of victory.

We've already discussed the challenge Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason will face from Missouri's dynamic pass rush. Aside from avoiding mistakes with Ray and Golden breathing down his neck, how much will Georgia expect from Mason and the passing game? Mason (687 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs) ranks 55th in the Total QBR standings with a 59.7 score -- not horrible, but not particularly impressive, either.

Mason hasn't worked with a full complement of receivers yet, but that's starting to change. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell played for the first time in more than a year last week against Vanderbilt, and Bulldogs coach Mark Richt expects receiver Justin Scott-Wesley and tight end Jay Rome to be back for the Missouri game, too.

Impact newcomers: Eastern Division

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
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Greg Ostendorf took a look earlier today at 10 impact newcomers in the Western Division for the 2014 season.

Again, these are players who are just arriving on campus this summer and doesn't include any of the early enrollees who went through spring practice.

We now shift our attention to the Eastern Division and 10 newcomers who could make a difference this coming season. They're listed alphabetically.

Jeb Blazevich, TE, Georgia: Ranked by ESPN as the No. 2 tight end prospect in the country, the 6-5, 233-pound Blazevich is a perfect fit for Georgia's offense. He has exceptional hands and catches everything. He will probably be a little behind as a blocker, but is the heir apparent to step into Arthur Lynch's role.

Nate Brown, WR, Missouri: The Tigers took a hit at receiver, especially with Dorial Green-Beckham getting kicked off the team, so the 6-3, 205-pound Brown will get a chance to show what he can do immediately. He caught 21 touchdown passes as a senior at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga., and stuck with his commitment to Missouri despite late overtures from Georgia and South Carolina.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: Yes, Georgia has Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, but as the Dawgs learned last season, you can never have enough quality running backs. Chubb and fellow true freshman Sony Michel are both ESPN 300 prospects who look SEC-ready right now. If Marshall isn't all the way back from his knee surgery, either freshman (or both) could have big years.

Shattle Fenteng, CB, Georgia: The Bulldogs are seemingly losing defensive backs by the day, so Fenteng can't get on campus quickly enough. The 6-2, 185-pound Fenteng was among the country's top-rated junior college cornerback prospects, and the Bulldogs didn't sign him so he could ease his way into the lineup. He could be a starter from Day 1.

Ryan Flannigan, LB, Kentucky: Linebacker help was a huge priority in this class for Kentucky, and Mark Stoops made sure he landed somebody in the junior college ranks who would have a chance to come in and contribute right away. Flannigan could factor in at any of the three linebacker spots. He's a good enough run-stopper to play in the middle, but also has the speed to play on the outside.

Wesley Green, CB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks needed reinforcements at cornerback, and Green shouldn't have to wait long to get on the field. He and fellow ESPN 300 prospect Chris Lammons are both good bets to factor prominently in the South Carolina secondary this coming season.

Dewayne Hendrix, DE, Tennessee: There's a reason the Vols went out and signed seven defensive linemen in this class. They're in serious need of more beef up front, not to mention some big-play guys off the edge. It's difficult for a true freshman to come in and play right away at end, but Hendrix has all the tools to be an excellent pass-rusher.

Michael Sawyers, DT, Tennessee: The Vols will take all the help they can get on the interior of their defensive line, which is why flipping Sawyers from Vanderbilt late in the process was such a coup. He's a 6-2, 300-pound space-eater and physically strong enough to step in as a true freshman and give Tennessee some much-needed muscle in the trenches.

Emmanuel Smith, S, Vanderbilt: One of the Commodores' most important signees, the 6-2, 205-pound Smith has the size and instincts to play right away in the secondary. He was the epitome of versatility in high school and is exactly the kind of athlete Vanderbilt was looking for to fill the void at safety with Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall both departing.

Gerald Willis III, DT, Florida: We've seen a long line of true freshmen make big impacts on defense for the Gators over the last few years, and Willis has everything it takes to be the next. He was ranked by ESPN as the No. 2 defensive tackle prospect nationally out of New Orleans could have gone anywhere, but chose the Gators. Look for him to find a spot in their defensive line rotation right out of the gate.

Others to watch: Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky; Treon Harris, QB, Florida; Todd Kelly, Jr., S, Tennessee; Nifae Lealao, DL, Vanderbilt; Malkom Parrish, S, Georgia.
There's a reason you eat breakfast every morning, people. It's the most important meal of the day, as it boosts your metabolism and gives you the added energy to get through the day.

Don't believe me? Well, then just take a look at Georgia running back signee Nick Chubb:

Yeah, that's just his normal, pre-race routine. The four-star prospect and ESPN 300 member was competing in this past week's Georgia state track meet when this awesome picture was snapped. What was supposed to be move to loosen up those legs and joints, turned into a freak show before our very eyes. Chubb had a time of 10.79 in the preliminaries of the Class AAAA 100-meter dash.

Chubb is supposed to have a 40-inch vertical, but that jump right there easily cleared 3.33 feet. I'm pretty sure he could have cleared me and my towering 5-foot-8 frame.

But there's a lot more Chubb could have done with that leap of ... freak:

1. Showing he could hurdle Jadeveon Clowney: Yeah, Clowney's lucky he got out of the SEC when he did, or he'd be subjected to many hurdles from Mr. Chubb. Clowney was a superior athlete when he was on the field, but a jump like that makes you wonder what would have happened when these two met. Chubb might not blow by Clowney, but who needs to run fast when you can just jump over your competition? SEC defensive ends/linebackers beware.

2. Showing Blake Griffin how it's really done: Remember when Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin tried to wow everyone at the NBA Dunk Contest by "jumping" over a car? Well, he didn't. He jumped over part of the hood, leaving so much to be desired in his championship-swindling dunk. Griffin could learn a lot from Chubb, who by my calculations, just cleared that Kia Griffin couldn't with ease.

3. Proving to be a valuable one-two punch with Gurley: We still don't know how healthy Keith Marshall will be, and I haven't seen any freaky photos of other freshman running back Sony Michel, so we're still looking for someone to consistently help Todd Gurley out. But let's forget about learning plays and development. Here's the perfect play for Georgia: Chubb takes the hand off, Gurley runs in front, as they get closer to the end zone, Chubb leaps onto Gurley's shoulders and jumps over the goal line. Best touchdown ever! And don't tell me Gurley couldn't handle it.

4. Showing he could be handy around the football facility: Need a light fixed, but don't have a ladder? Call Chubb. Need to paint the ceiling? Call Chubb. Need to get a ball out of the rafters? Call Chubb. Need someone to jump one of the walls at Foley Field right next to the football complex because Hutson Mason got a little careless with one of his throws? Call Chubb.

5. Bringing the country a real touchdown celebration: For some reason, when New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham dunks a football through goal posts after a touchdown, people get all giddy. OK, he can jump high and has long arms. But Chubb is bringing something way more exciting to the touchdown celebration: He's jumping through the goal posts. Get on Chubb's level, Jimmy!
It’s almost that time. Georgia is scheduled to open spring practice next week.

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

Today’s prediction: Jordan Davis makes a move at tight end

Like the prediction we made about redshirt freshman tailback A.J. Turman on Monday, this is another one that seems like common sense.

[+] EnlargeJordan Davis
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsJordan Davis will get the lion's share of the reps at tight end during spring and could be UGA's next star at the position.
The tailbacks are a bit depth-depleted because injuries will prevent Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall from performing at 100 percent and because signees Nick Chubb and Sony Michel aren’t on campus yet. That will provide Turman with a prime opportunity to prove himself.

Depth is an even bigger issue for Davis and the tight ends. All-SEC senior Arthur Lynch just exhausted his eligibility. Jay Rome is recovering from surgery, and coach Mark Richt said last week that he expects him to either miss all or most of spring. Signees Jeb Blazevich and Hunter Atkinson won’t arrive until summer.

If redshirt freshman Davis doesn’t make good use of what should be a ton of reps this spring, that will come off as an enormous disappointment.

The Bulldogs didn’t need him to play last season since Lynch and blocking tight end Hugh Williams were seniors, and Rome was also in the mix, although injuries cut his season short.

The depth chart looks completely different now, and Davis’ combination of speed, athleticism -- he was a distinguished hurdler in high school -- and a steady work ethic should begin to pay off immediately. If anything, he needs to learn to relax a bit, as tight ends coach John Lilly insisted last season that Davis often put too much pressure on himself.

Now is the time for him to settle into the routine of operating with the regulars on offense. Georgia’s coaches said last week that fullback Quayvon Hicks might take some snaps in an H-back role on offense, but otherwise Davis is the lone scholarship tight end available if Rome misses the entire spring.

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Davis certainly looks the part of a pass-catching tight end with the frame to hold more size if necessary. Our prediction is that he develops the confidence this spring to accompany those physical tools, and that he will seize an on-field role for this fall.
It’s almost that time. Georgia is scheduled to open spring practice next week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there’s no way around it, Georgia will have a crowded backfield in the fall. A sluggish spring might mean that Turman becomes the forgotten man in that race. If he impresses -- and we believe he will -- the competition will be all the more interesting when the backfield arrives at full strength in the preseason.
So I was going back through the blog this morning and noticed our wildly popular video on the SEC East's top returning players and storylines in 2014, and I started thinking: Todd Gurley really hasn't shown his best stuff.

Yeah, just think about that comment for a second. Let it marinate, and before you Bulldogs fans start hurling insults my way, hear me out. For as great as he was as a freshman and as good as he was during an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, we really haven't seen the best of Gurley. And that has to be a scary thought for the rest of the league.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIIf he's healthy, Todd Gurley could make a huge leap in 2014.
As a freshman still learning the ropes, he led all SEC running backs with 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns. That was when he was still kind of going through the motions. Before he missed a month with a nagging ankle injury last year, Gurley rushed for 450 yards and four touchdowns in four games. It should also be noted that he rushed for 73 yards on eight carries before suffering that ankle injury in the first half against LSU.

I think most of us can agree that if Gurley had been healthy all season, he would have pushed for the SEC rushing title and might have had a shot at the Heisman Trophy. Now, I'm not taking anything away from Tre Mason, Jeremy Hill, Mike Davis and T.J. Yeldon. They all had great seasons, but even though Gurley missed all of October, he finished the season with 989 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

He showed more explosion in his runs, he's still a bull of a runner and bringing him down with just one person is almost laughable. The fact of the matter is that a healthy Gurley is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and he could look his best in what could be his final year with the Bulldogs.

It might sound cliché, but Gurley just loves getting better. He's a laid-back guy who really does breathe football (and has a "Star Wars" cameo). He doesn't care about media attention. He knows the playbook, he knows how to handle pressure and he knows what it takes to succeed in this league. He's too seasoned not to soar in 2014.

He wants to win, and he wants to leave defenders battered and bruised along the way. Gurley has done that at 100 percent healthy and at 75 percent. His first game back after that nagging ankle injury last year? He rushed for 100 yards, registered 87 receiving yards and recorded two total touchdowns on 20 touches against Florida, which owned one of the nation's best defenses. In his final six games of the season (all after his injury), Gurley ran for 539 yards and six touchdowns. At 100 percent, Gurley would eat that for breakfast.

And he might have to carry more of the load in 2014. Keith Marshall is expected to come back this fall after suffering that nasty, season-ending knee injury just five games in, but there's no guarantee that he will be 100 percent. Sure, the Bulldogs have some talented freshmen coming in (ESPN 300 members Sony Michel and Nick Chubb), but don't expect them to get the sort of practice reps Gurley and Marshall had as freshmen. Add the fact that quarterback Aaron Murray is gone, and Gurley will have more responsibility this year.

Gurley isn't as flashy as Johnny Manziel, but he could have a similar impact for the Bulldogs this year. He's a different kind of face of the program than Jameis Winston, but he has the same sort of ability to carry this team.

The SEC has a knack for producing scary combinations of strength, size and speed at the running back position, but Gurley just looks like a different animal. He runs like a different animal. He fights like a different one, too.

Gurley will be a Heisman front-runner before the season rolls around, and if he can stay upright all year, don't be shocked if he hoists it in early December.

SEC's lunch links

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
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Here's a quick look at what is happening around the SEC:

" Alabama said Monday after running back Dee Hart's arrest on drug possession charges that he has not been a part of the program since the bowl game.

" Ole Miss suspended linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant following their weekend arrests in Oxford.

" Several SEC players made NFL.com analyst Nolan Nawrocki's list of the most controversial players in the draft, including Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who Nawrocki said “carries a sense of entitlement and prima-donna arrogance.”

" Athlon Sports lists the top-10 SEC linebackers of the BCS era.

" Did Georgia recruit too well at running back when it signed Sony Michel and Nick Chubb this year? Highly sought-after 2015 prospect Taj Griffin discusses that and other subjects with the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Michael Carvell.

" USC has removed a signing-day video where an off-camera voice can be heard describing a Tennessee signee as “soft and terrible.”

" Mercedes-Benz won't allow a Birmingham-area car dealership to carry Nick Saban's name, but the Alabama coach is aligned with a proposed dealership that is caught up in litigation ahead of its opening.

" Baton Rouge police arrested three suspects in connection with a weekend home invasion at former LSU athletic director Skip Bertman's residence.

" The Columbia Daily Tribune's David Morrison takes a look at the Tigers' running back depth chart entering spring practice.

" South Carolina's Bruce Ellington followed his mother's advice and opted to enter the NFL draft early.

Now that you've seen the national signing day hits and misses from the SEC West, it's time to take a look at how the East fared:

FLORIDA

Needs filled: With four starters gone from the secondary, Florida got right to work on their replacements by signing three ESPN 300 cornerback prospects, including early enrollees Jalen Tabor (five-star) and Duke Dawson. The Gators also signed five defensive linemen, including No. 2 defensive tackle Gerald Willis III and No. 3 defensive tackle Thomas Holley. Along with six offensive line signees, Florida added much-needed quarterback depth with ESPN 300 members Will Grier (early enrollee) and former Florida State commit Treon Harris.

Holes remaining: Florida missed out on elite offensive playmakers in running back Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane, who both flipped from Florida to Florida State. The Gators also lost out on five-star cornerback/receiver Adoree' Jackson to USC and ESPN 300 offensive tackle Damian Prince to Maryland.

GEORGIA

Needs filled: The Bulldogs had some big gets on signing day by keeping five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter home and surprising everyone by signing explosive ESPN 300 athlete Isaiah McKenzie. The Bulldogs signed three other defensive linemen and the No. 2 and No. 7 running backs in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Georgia also secured the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in Jacob Park and second-ranked tight end Jeb Blazevich.

Holes remaining: Georgia didn't necessarily need a big linebacker haul, but the Bulldogs did watch top-notch linebackers on their board Raekwon McMillan, Rashaan Evans and Bryson Allen-Williams go elsewhere. They would have also liked to have secured an elite receiver and missed on ESPN 300 cornerback Wesley Green, who signed with South Carolina.

KENTUCKY

Needs filled: Coach Mark Stoops really made a splash with this recruiting class and hopes to have his quarterback of the future with ESPN 300 member -- and early enrollee -- Drew Barker. Barker will have help with the additions of ESPN 300 running back Stanley Williams and ESPN 300 receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass. He also hit the defensive line hard, snatching ESPN 300 defensive end Denzel Ware away from Florida State and four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam away from Alabama. Stoops also signed ESPN 300 corners Kendall Randolph and Darius West.

Holes remaining: With the loss of senior Avery Williamson and the other holes at linebacker on the roster, the Wildcats would have liked to add a couple more linebackers to this class.

MISSOURI

Needs filled: The Tigers' staff needed to add to the offensive line and the secondary, and had to come away pretty satisfied with the prospects they secured. The gem of the class is ESPN 300 offensive tackle Andy Bauer, who should provide immediate depth up front. Mizzou also signed four other offensive linemen. The Tigers grabbed six defensive back signees and ESPN 300 linebacker Brandon Lee.

Holes remaining: While Mizzou was able to sign three players who could see time along the defensive line, the Tigers missed out on ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford, who signed with Texas, and weren't able to flip Tennessee ESPN 300 defensive end signee Derek Barnett.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Needs filled: The Gamecocks needed to add some quality depth to their secondary and did just that with the signing of ESPN 300 members Chris Lammons, who flipped from Florida, D.J. Smith, and Wesley Green, along with two other defensive back prospects. Steve Spurrier also bolstered a defensive line that lost three starters by signing ESPN 300 members Dante Sawyer (DE) and Dexter Wideman (DT), along with junior college standout tackles Jhaustin Thomas and Abu Lamin.

Holes remaining: You can never have too many offensive linemen, and the Gamecocks only signed two. South Carolina would have probably liked to sign another elite receiver prospect with the loss of Bruce Ellington, and didn't sign a running back.

TENNESSEE

Needs filled: The Vols signed a hefty class, and met most of their needs in the process. ESPN 300 receiver Josh Malone and ESPN 300 running back Jalen Hurd, both of whom are early enrollees, should make an immediate impact. ESPN 300 running back Derrell Scott should help as well, along with juco transfer receiver LaVon Pearson. Tennessee secured four ESPN 300 defensive backs, grabbed two ESPN 300 linebackers in Dillon Bates and Gavin Bryant, and signed a handful of defensive line prospects, including ESPN 300 ends Dewayne Hendrix and Derek Barnett.

Holes remaining: After losing all five starters from last season's offensive line, signing a couple more linemen would have been a plus for the Vols. Tennessee signed only three offensive linemen and also lost defensive tackle Cory Thomas to Mississippi State on signing day.

VANDERBILT

Needs filled: After dipping down into single-digit verbal numbers, the Commodores closed with 22 signees. The biggest gets were ESPN 300 members Nifae Lealao (defensive tackle) and Dallas Rivers (running back), who could provide immediate help. After losing ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Carta-Samuels to Washington, the Commodores flipped Pittsburgh commit Wade Freebeck and former East Carolina commit Shawn Stankavage.

Holes remaining: Losing offensive lineman Andrew Mike to Florida just before signing day hurt and as signing day went on, you just weren't seeing the same caliber players that former coach James Franklin brought in, which was going to be tough for new coach Derek Mason, anyway. Vandy also missed out on Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett.
Georgia has another top-10 class lined up for national signing day, but its final ranking next week could rise or fall depending on how the Bulldogs finish within their own state -- particularly whether they land their top remaining target, Lorenzo Carter.

As it stands, the Bulldogs have commitments from two of the top six players from Georgia, but that's it among the Peach State's collection of elite prospects. Heavily recruited players such as linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State) and quarterback Deshaun Watson (Clemson) were among those who checked out Georgia before committing elsewhere.

Mark Richt's staff still has a chance to finish on a strong note, however.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo Carter
Miller Safrit/ESPNLorenzo Carter is the top remaining recruiting target for Georgia.
The Bulldogs seem to be in good shape to land five-star defensive end Carter (ESPN's No. 14 overall prospect and No. 3 player at his position). Other targets such as ESPN 300 prospect Wesley Green (No. 120 overall, No. 13 cornerback, uncommitted), Bryson Allen-Williams (No. 162 overall, No. 10 outside linebacker, committed to South Carolina) and Andrew Williams (No. 174 overall, No. 17 defensive end, uncommitted) are among those lurking as possible final members of the class.

Otherwise, this recruiting class -- one that could be slightly smaller than normal -- adequately addresses Georgia's immediate needs. Let's look at how Georgia addressed some of those positions:

Secondary: Georgia's weakest position segment last season could use some immediate help -- and it will get it in cornerbacks Shattle Fenteng (No. 3 overall prospect, top cornerback on ESPN's Junior College 50) and Malkom Parrish (No. 77 overall, No. 10 athlete). Georgia recently added three-star athlete Dominick Sanders at corner. Green -- who is scheduled to join Carter and others on a visit to Athens this weekend -- and three-star athletes T.J. Harrell and Tavon Ross remain as targets.

The possible shortcoming here is that safety was an inconsistent position for Georgia last season and the Bulldogs have only three-star prospect Kendall Gant lined up so far.

With Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended to open the season, senior Corey Moore, rising sophomore Quincy Mauger and oft-injured Tray Matthews might be the only early options, but keep an eye on Harrell and Ross between now and signing day.

Running back: With Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall entering their third seasons on campus, Georgia needed insurance policies at tailback.

The Bulldogs locked that up in a big way with the current headliners in this class, Sony Michel (No. 19 overall, No. 2 running back) and Nick Chubb (No. 63 overall, No. 7 running back). It will be interesting to see how Richt's staff juggles a glut of talented ball carriers just a year after injuries to Gurley and Marshall created depth problems.

Tight end: With Ty Flournoy-Smith getting kicked off the team last summer and Arthur Lynch exhausting his eligibility in the fall, Georgia had a need at tight end. Jeb Blazevich (No. 101 overall, No. 2 tight end/H) could become Georgia's next great pass-catching tight end thanks to an impressive combination of size (6-foot-5) and soft hands.

Offensive line: Replenishing the line of scrimmage is always a priority, and with Georgia losing starting guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee, signing a top prospect such as Isaiah Wynn (No. 106 overall, No. 6 guard) will be particularly valuable. The Bulldogs are also set to sign four-star tackle Dyshon Sims and three-star prospects Kendall Baker and Jake Edwards.

Receiver: Georgia has plenty of bodies here for 2014, but Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Jonathon Rumph and Michael Erdman will each be seniors and Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell will be fourth-year juniors.

The Bulldogs have secured commitments from ESPN 300 member Shakenneth Williams (No. 297 overall, No. 45 receiver) and three-star prospect Gilbert Johnson. They also are set to re-sign Rico Johnson, who failed to qualify after signing with the Bulldogs last February.

Defensive line/outside linebacker: Keep an eye on this group for the future. If Georgia lands Carter to go along with already-committed Lamont Gaillard (No. 55 overall, No. 4 defensive tackle), that could be the foundation for some outstanding defensive lines in the next couple of seasons.

The Bulldogs return almost everyone along the line from last season, so it is not a glaring immediate need. The 2014 line will be stocked with fourth-year players, though, so this is a good time to restock the depth charts for the future. They already have a commitment from the versatile Keyon Brown (No. 185 overall, No. 19 defensive end), with Carter and Williams potentially joining him. Like Brown, three-star outside linebacker Detric Dukes brings some versatility to the crop of commitments along the line.

Georgia's coaches never gave up on Allen-Williams even after his commitment to South Carolina in April. He insists he will still sign with the Gamecocks, but plans to visit Georgia with Carter and the others this weekend. Stay tuned.

#AskLoogs: UGA stockpiles RBs

January, 11, 2014
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Well, that would be an easy assumption, and who knows? Their combined production might be comparable at the collegiate level. At least you hope it will be if you are a Georgia fan. However, these two prospects are different types of backs from Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Both of them are tall, long gliders and gallopers. Chubb and Michel are much shorter with different body types -- more squatty. Chubb and Michel remind me more of Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams. A lower center of gravity, shorter and shiftier with excellent lateral agility. However, these four have many of the same traits. They can all run inside, they can all bounce to the perimeter and turn the corner and they are capable of producing big plays if they get to the second level. Most importantly, when Gurley and Marshall eventually move on, there won’t be a lack of or drop off in talent. They bring much more to the table than Georgia’s current reserves.
SAN ANTONIO -- The University of Georgia prides itself on power running backs. Look at the names of the past and present as proof.

Herschel Walker. Garrison Hearst. Lars Tate. Knowshon Moreno. Rodney Hampton. Frank Sinkwich. Terrell Davis. Most recently, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

[+] EnlargeChubb/Michel
Damon SaylesNick Chubb (left) and Sony Michel will face a crowded backfield when they arrive at Georgia.
With most of these players, you can say their first names around Athens, Ga., and everyone knows who you’re referring to. In a few years, the names “Sony” and “Chubb” could be added to that list.

That’s the ambition for two of the 2014 class’ most complete running backs. ESPN 300 running backs Sony Michel (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) and Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga./Cedartown) have been impressive during U.S. Army All-American Bowl practices, and the two are working as teammates in the coveted all-star game before doing so in the SEC.

“I’m going in behind guys like Herschel Walker and Todd Gurley, two of the best running backs ever,” Chubb said. “I’m going to make a name for myself and I’m going to do my best.”

Michel added: “I’m just going in and trying to put my name on the map like they did.”

At first glance, Michel, the No. 2 running back in the country (No. 16 in the ESPN 300), and Chubb, the No. 8 running back (No. 64 in the ESPN 300), fit the description of a Georgia power runner. Both have good size and great speed. Michel is a solid 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds. Chubb is also 5-11 but weighs in at 216.

The idea of being as good as Walker and the distinguished Georgia ghosts of the past will always be in the back of their minds. While the mission is achievable, it’s also a long way off.

Georgia’s 2013 running back group was loaded with depth and seemed almost unfair at times. When everyone was healthy, the Bulldogs had Gurley, Marhsall, Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green to choose from. Gurley and Marshall were the “elder statesmen” as sophomores.

Add Michel and Chubb to the list next year, and the backfield looks even more dominant -- and crowded. Both players understand the risk of not playing early, but they also aren’t afraid of competing.

“There’s always going to be pressure, and people are going to be watching to see if we can live up to it,” Chubb said. “I’ve been doing this since I was young, and I’m going to continue doing it. I’m going to do my best.”

Power running is what they specialize in. When they arrive to Athens, some want to make the “thunder and lightning” comparison.

But “thunder and thunder” or even “lightning and lightning” might be more appropriate. Both are explosive and have that extra gear coaches look for. They have lower-body strength, which allows them to break tackles and punish defenders, and they have great field vision, which allows them to showcase their elusiveness.

One player who is a fan is ESPN 300 quarterback Jacob Park (Goose Creek, S.C./Stratford), a Georgia commit and another U.S. Army All-American. Park has had a chance to get to know both Chubb and Michel in Army bowl practices, and he’s seen both running backs make big plays -- even when a play didn’t look promising.

“I’d heard about them and seen them play a couple of times on TV,” Park said, “but when you’re on the same field with them handing them ball and watching them run, it’s completely different.

Backfield depth could be new issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You watch Keith, you watch Todd. You're going to want to be just like them. You're going to try to ball out.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- The offseason is important for every college player, but it is particularly valuable for those hoping to make the transition from off-the-radar prospect to essential contributor.

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

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

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

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

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

Jordan Davis: Another 2013 redshirt, Davis has the opportunity to garner major playing time next fall. Arthur Lynch and Hugh Williams will be gone and only Jay Rome will remain among the Bulldogs' 2013 regulars at tight end. Davis should be able to carve out a role -- and he could do himself a favor if he does so before highly-touted verbal commit Jeb Blazevich can establish himself. Davis is a diligent worker and should eventually become a serviceable traditional tight end, whereas Blazevich looks more like a player whose greatest strength will be his receiving skills. The Bulldogs need both skill sets to be present among players at the position.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's win on Nov. 9 against Appalachian State wasn't just one of the last times we'll see this senior-laden version of the Bulldogs offense, it also served as a sneak preview of what lies ahead.

Following Saturday's date with Kentucky -- the final game at Sanford Stadium this season -- the Bulldogs will look entirely different on offense the next time they take the field before a home crowd. And many of the players who will take over for the likes of Aaron Murray and his fellow seniors next fall also filled their spots in the fourth quarter of Georgia's 45-6 win over the Mountaineers two weekends ago.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNBackup quarterback Hutson Mason is the frontrunner to start for the Bulldogs in 2014.
“I think the thing you can't get in practice is just that 95,000 [fans] with the atmosphere,” said junior Hutson Mason, Georgia's presumptive starting quarterback next season, who went 11-for-16 for 160 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State. “Really you can get everything [else] in practice. Our coaches, they believe in putting a lot of pressure on you so when it comes to the game, you're used to that feeling. But it's definitely a different atmosphere, different jitters.”

Assuming he wins the quarterback job, Mason will be in a convenient position next season. Georgia loses seven seniors -- Murray, tight end Arthur Lynch, receivers Rantavious Wooten and Rhett McGowan and offensive linemen Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee -- who started on offense against Auburn. And yet the returning skill-position talent surrounding the Bulldogs' next quarterback will be as impressive as that of nearly any offense in the country.

Not only will tailback Todd Gurley return for his junior season, the Bulldogs expect to get receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall back from season-ending knee injuries that crippled the offense at points this fall. That's in addition to other returning weapons like receivers Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jonathon Rumph, tight end Jay Rome and tailbacks J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas and 2014 commitments Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, both of whom rank among ESPN's top eight prospects at running back.

Not a bad situation for a first-time starting quarterback who must replace the most distinguished passer in SEC history.

“We've got a lot of weapons,” redshirt freshman receiver Blake Tibbs said. “And Hutson, he don't care who's open. If they put a dog in a helmet and some equipment out there, if he was open, Hutson would throw it to him. That's one thing about Hutson: He don't care. If you're open, he's going to trust you to make the play and he's going to keep throwing to you.”

Mason certainly proved that in his lone opportunity for significant playing time this season. He hit his first eight pass attempts, connecting with the likes of Rumph, Green, freshman Reggie Davis and walk-on Kenneth Towns on his first drive. Then came further completions to Tibbs, Michael Erdman, Douglas and Rumph again before his first incomplete pass.

The common bond there? Those are mostly the players with whom Mason has regularly worked on the Bulldogs' second-team offense, so chemistry was not an issue when they hit the field.

“That group's kind of been playing together -- besides Rumph -- for a long time and a lot of when our twos go against the ones, they always seem to do well and I think there's a chemistry between those guys kind of like Aaron and Bennett and other guys,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

There's a long time between now and the reserves' time to shine. Heck, there are three games remaining this season.

That means there is plenty of time for the stars in waiting to continue to develop before the Bulldogs open the 2014 season against Clemson on Aug. 30 -- which is exactly the mentality Rumph says he's developing.

“That's what young players have got to understand,” said Rumph, who has six catches in the last three games after missing the first half of the season with a hamstring ailment. “This is your job, so every time you go to school or go to practice, you've got to work to get better. That's all I'm trying to do is keep adding stuff to my game. I've got the feel for the game, I know what I'm capable of. I'm just trying to keep adding stuff to my game.”

Mason echoed those thoughts, pointing out that while even coach Mark Richt has declared Mason as the frontrunner to win the job next season, he still must make good use of this opportunity and not just assume the job is his from the get-go.

He has the opportunity to work with what could be an extremely productive offense next season -- if he stakes a claim on the job.

“I'm not going to be naïve. I hear about that stuff and I read some of it and stuff like that. I've always been the first to say that I believe they're just being nice,” Mason said. “I believe that I've done a good job of performing when my opportunity comes, but I've never stepped on the field in front of 90,000 and like I was saying earlier, that's different from playing in practice.

“So I enjoy the comments and I enjoy the people that have faith in me, but really myself, I just take it day-by-day and say, 'You know what, what have I proven?' because in reality I haven't proven a lot. So when that opportunity comes, hopefully I'll show up.”

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