SEC: Mark Richt

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The ginormous question surrounding Georgia's football team after news broke of Todd Gurley's suspension has been whether the Bulldogs could win without arguably the nation's best player.

Well, after two games sans Gurley, who still leads the SEC with 773 rushing yards, the Bulldogs haven't really needed him. In two convincing wins -- on the road, mind you -- the Dawgs have put the running game squarely on true freshman Nick Chubb and he's, well, run away with that responsibility.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsIn 99 carries through Week 8 this season, rookie Nick Chubb has taken over Georgia's rushing load and he isn't showing signs of slowing down.
The bruising, 5-foot-10, 228-pound frosh looked nothing like a youngster when he first stepped on the field and dazzled the country with his moves and strength in the opening win against Clemson, and he transformed into a certified manimal with his 345 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the past two games as the feature back for the Bulldogs.

"Nick's gonna be special. We know that," senior cornerback Damian Swann said. "Right now, he's taking on a very big load and he's handling it well. ... You've seen him on the past two Saturdays. He's got a bright future in Athens."

Unfortunately for the SEC, the future is now, and Chubb has been amazing filling in, especially with how much he has played. In the past two games, Chubb has carried the ball 68 times, eclipsing 30 carries in each outing. Gurley has never even carried the ball 30 times in a single game at Georgia.

After carrying it 38 times for 143 yards at Missouri, Chubb turned right around and ran 30 times for a career-high 202 yards and two touchdowns. How good was that? Chubb became just the third freshman in Georgia history to rush for more than 200 yards in a game (Herschel Walker, Rodney Hampton).

Chubb has five touchdowns and is eighth in the SEC with 569 rushing yards.

"He's taken the majority of the carries and it doesn't seem to faze him," quarterback Hutson Mason said. "The guy's a special cat. He's got to be the best freshman running back in the country. You give it to him 20 or 40 times and it just seems like he's going to keep pounding it. It's awesome."

That's all fine and dandy now, but it certainly begs the question. With Gurley out and running backs Keith Marshall and Sony Michel nursing injuries, are the Bulldogs running their young thoroughbred, who already had thumb surgery, too much? Does the colt need to take some plays off and rest his body with Gurley's return uncertain?

"He's built for it," coach Mark Richt said. "He's very, very tough physically and mentally. He's strong. He came from high school in Cedartown [Georgia] where they're just tough. They coach tough. Their offseason's tough. He didn't get babied in high school at all. He was not one of those guys where you could sit there and say he was given anything because he was a very good football player. He had to earn it every day in practice and every offseason workout."

The bye week will certainly help any sort of fatigue Chubb has, but with the way he has played in back-to-back weeks -- remember: On the road -- I don't know if another game would slow him down. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon on his 43-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter on Saturday, and then he just went back to bulldozing guys for the rest of the game.

If he needs a rest, he isn't showing it.

"It's super impressive because that guy's durable," wide receiver Chris Conley said. "He doesn't complain, he does what he's told and he puts his head down and grinds for the team."

Players aren't surprised at how well Chubb has played. They saw the chiseled snapshots of him running track in high school before he enrolled. They saw him pulverize teammates during offseason drills. They watched him lift, cringed as he squatted ungodly amounts and saw the pain he inflicted during practice.

This was what the Bulldogs expected, and they haven't missed a beat without Gurley leading the pack.

"We know how special that kid is," Swann said.

Yes, and so does the entire country.

SEC morning links

October, 17, 2014
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It's easy to overreact to the results of one game, and Texas A&M is classic evidence of that this season. One blowout road win over a South Carolina team that was ranked high in the preseason, but has turned out not to be good as advertised, created strong feelings about the Aggies' chances early this season. The same can be said for quarterback Kenny Hill, the Aggies' sophomore who will be making just his eighth career start on Saturday when the Aggies' head to Alabama. Remember the "Johnny Who?" and "Kenny Trill" comments after he broke Johnny Manziel's passing yards record in the win over the Gamecocks? Hill and the rest of Aggieland are learning that life in the SEC West with a young quarterback isn't so easy after two convincing losses to two undefeated Mississippi teams have brought everyone back down to Earth. Six turnovers in those last two games have been one of many factors stalling the Aggies' usually high-powered offense. Whether he and the rest of the offense can bounce back from their issues will go a long way in deciding how competitive a game it will be in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

Speaking of up-and-down quarterbacks, Missouri's Maty Mauk knows the feeling. He had a solid start to the season but had a dismal day in a 34-0 loss to Georgia last week. After a five-turnover performance against the Bulldogs, Mauk said he's aware of the criticism from some fans, who wanted Gary Pinkel to yank him, but it doesn't faze Mauk. Pinkel said it never crossed his mind and offered a vote of confidence to the quarterback, saying "He's our guy." Mauk and the Tigers will have a chance for redemption when they head to The Swamp to take on Florida. The Gators know firsthand that Mauk can play after going for 295 passing yards against Florida last season.

The Todd Gurley autograph saga continues. Georgia officials met with NCAA officials in Indianapolis on Thursday and gave us an update -- in the form of no real update. In a statement, Georgia said "there is no news at this time and no further comment necessary." An NCAA spokesperson did note that it is awaiting a request for reinstatement from Georgia. If the Bulldogs are to make such a request, they have to resolve any issues surrounding his eligibility before doing so. For what it's worth, coach Mark Richt tweeted early Thursday morning that he's "not anticipating [Gurley's status] to change this week."

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ATHENS, Ga. -- For any relationship to flourish, you need communication.

The same can be said for the maturation and development of Georgia's defense, as communication has been the key to the vast improvements we have seen in the last couple of weeks.

Since closing the month of September by allowing 401 yards of offense and 32 points in a three-point win against Tennessee, the Bulldogs' defense has been outstanding the past two games. Georgia held Vanderbilt to 320 yards and 17 points, then went on the road to shutout Missouri, allowing -- wait for it -- 147 yards. Yes, the Bulldogs, who were dealing with the emotions of not having top player Todd Gurley, went into a hostile SEC environment and completely shut down the Tigers.

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AP Photo/L.G. PattersonSterling Bailey and the Georgia defense held Missouri and QB Maty Mauk to 147 total yards Saturday.
The Dawgs' defense sacked Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk three times, intercepted him four times and held him to 97 yards on 9 of 21 passing.

"The communication in the back end is getting better and better," Georgia coach Mark Richt said about the defensive improvements. "I just think they’re understand more what [defensive coordinator] [Jeremy] Pruitt wants back there, and they’re just doing a good job of getting each other on the same page."

Pruitt, in his first season at Georgia, hasn't been afraid to constantly change things up this season, as Georgia has displayed six different starting defensive lineups in six games. But what has remained constant is the goal to get tighter, more concise communication throughout the defense. The evolution of that has helped players know exactly where they should be and where others should be, defensive end Sterling Bailey said.

What has been so great about a more talkative defensive unit is that even when plays get called wrong or offenses throw some shifts or motions out there, guys are moving together in order to be on the same page. Players are starting to learn how to change at the last minute together.

"You’ve got to be able to make adjustments on the fly," Richt said. "If you don’t, you’ll get exposed."

Through the first four games, Georgia's defense was allowing an average of 338.8 yards per game, 4.7 yards per play, 22.8 points per game and had three interceptions. Take out that 66-0 win against lowly Troy, and yards per game increases to 379.7 yards, and points per game shoots up to 30.3. South Carolina and Tennessee averaged 6.2 and 5.1 yards per play, respectively, against the Bulldogs.

Since then, the Bulldogs have given up 233.5 yards per game, 17 points, 4.2 yards per play, and the opponents' third-down conversation rate decreased from 31.7 percent to 10 percent. Georgia also has five interceptions.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, opponents' points per drive against the Dawgs is down from 1.65 through the first four games to .65 in the past two.

Players are evolving within the defense, but they are also using their words more to make things work. They are asking teammates and coaches more questions. Guys are getting calls right more often. The Dawgs are now performing well, both physically and vocally.

"We know that when we communicate, we execute," Bailey said. "When we don’t, things fall apart.

"It’s helping us learn his defense a lot better."

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who has the pleasure of facing Georgia's improved defense on Saturday, has been very impressed with the improvements made under Pruitt, because Pruitt has been able to mold his defense around the talent of the players he has. There is no 'square peg, round hole' in Athens.

"He’s built a scheme there at Georgia that fits his personnel there," Bielema said.

It has only been two games, but Georgia's defense is thriving and generating a ton of momentum for a second-half push. Saturday presents the task of stopping an Arkansas offense averaging 278.7 rushing yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry. That sounds intimidating, but Bailey said this unit isn't worried about numbers anymore. It's concerned with talking itself into a dominating frenzy each week.

"We are not taking any steps back," Bailey said.

SEC morning links

October, 16, 2014
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Kentucky's turnaround has been one of the best stories in the SEC this season. What Mark Stoops and his staff has accomplished in Year 2 on the job is remarkable as the Wildcats (5-1) are one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. Much of the credit goes to the influx of talent from Stoops' recruiting but it's not only about the young guys. Stoops said the veterans on the Kentucky roster have played a big role, too. He's right. Players like quarterback Patrick Towles and defensive end Bud Dupree were already on campus when Stoops took over. The elder statesmen on the team say Stoops has gone out of his way to make sure they know how much he values his veterans. Senior fullback D.J. Warren even said he wishes he could stick around longer. "I tell myself all the time I wish I was a freshman right now," he said.

With Mike Slive announcing that this will be his final year as SEC commissioner, speculation has naturally turned to who will replace him. The odds-on favorite many have pointed to nationally is SEC executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer Greg Sankey. The praise from colleagues is effusive, from commissioners of other conferences to athletic directors within the SEC. Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said "Bottom line, I think he has the potential to be one of the truly great leaders in intercollegiate athletics." Sankey has strong credentials and his day-to-day handling of SEC operations while Slive worked on major projects in recent years certainly makes him a natural fit.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs are talking a lot about No. 1 these days since they hold the top spot in the national rankings. As Mullen and his quarterback, Dak Prescott discuss the situation, they're saying all the right things about staying focused, not paying attention to the noise, etc. What's more important than what they say is how they react to the spotlight. Handling success can be a challenge. I have no doubt that Mullen, who has been on a national championship team at Florida, knows how to navigate this and meet that challenge. It'll be fun to watch as the Bulldogs experience life on top.

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SEC releases 2015 football schedule

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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Remember all the complaining we did in September about the drop-off in intrigue between the SEC’s opening-week schedule and the bonanza of nonconference snoozers the following Saturday?

That won’t be an issue in 2015, with the usual slate of SEC-versus-Power Five opponent openers -- including Alabama-Wisconsin, Auburn-Louisville, Texas A&M-Arizona State and the Thursday night opener between South Carolina and North Carolina -- followed by three conference games and Oklahoma-Tennessee in Week 2.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier and South Carolina will be test in 2015, as the Gamecocks play two Power-5 opponents along with eight SEC games.
The SEC released its full 2015 slate on Tuesday night, and those are only a few of the interesting details that fans are sure to obsess over now that their teams’ schedules are official.

After taking a quick glance at the schedules, here are a few more highlights and abnormalities:

  • Georgia’s non-conference slate is nothing special (Louisiana-Monroe, Southern, Georgia Southern, at Georgia Tech), but Mark Richt’s Bulldogs might have drawn the toughest cross-division slates with dates against Alabama and Auburn. Kentucky drawing a Thursday-night matchup against Auburn and a trip to Mississippi State isn’t much of a favor to Mark Stoops, either.
  • UGA-Alabama is one of the most interesting cross-division games on the list. The two programs haven’t met in the regular season since the Crimson Tide spoiled preseason No. 1 Georgia’s 2008 “Blackout” game at Sanford Stadium by jumping out to a 31-0 halftime lead. A few others of interest are Florida-Ole Miss (Oct. 3), Florida-LSU (Oct. 17), Alabama-Tennessee (Oct. 24), Georgia-Auburn (Nov. 14) and a Thursday-night game between Missouri and Mississippi State (Nov. 5).
    2015 SEC cross-divisional games: Alabama (Oct. 3 at Georgia, Oct. 24 vs. Tennessee), Arkansas (Oct. 3 at Tennessee, Nov. 28 vs. Missouri), Auburn (Thursday, Oct. 15 at Kentucky, Nov. 14 vs. Georgia), Florida (Oct. 3 vs. Ole Miss, Oct. 17 at LSU), Georgia (Oct. 3 vs. Alabama, Nov. 14 at Auburn), Kentucky (Thursday, Oct. 15 vs. Auburn, Oct. 24 at Mississippi State), LSU (Oct. 10 at South Carolina, Oct. 17 vs. Florida), Ole Miss (Sept. 26 vs. Vanderbilt, Oct. 3 at Florida), Mississippi State (Oct. 24 vs. Kentucky, Thursday, Nov. 5 at Missouri), Missouri (Thursday, Nov. 5 vs. Mississippi State, Nov. 28 at Arkansas), South Carolina (Oct. 10 vs. LSU, Oct. 31 at Texas A&M), Tennessee (Oct. 3 vs. Arkansas, Oct. 24 at Alabama), Texas A&M (Oct. 31 vs. South Carolina, Nov. 21 at Vanderbilt), Vanderbilt (Sept. 26 at Ole Miss, Nov. 21 vs. Texas A&M).
  • As usual, opening weekend is when most of the SEC-versus-Power Five games will occur, but there are others sprinkled throughout the schedule. Four SEC teams aren’t scheduled to play a Power Five nonconference game, while South Carolina (North Carolina, Clemson) is the only SEC team set to play two.
  • We'll give Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks the early nod as the SEC team with the toughest nonconference schedule. In addition to the neutral-site game with UNC and home game against Clemson, South Carolina will host Central Florida and The Citadel.
    2015 SEC-versus-Power Five: Alabama (Sept. 5 vs. Wisconsin in Dallas), Arkansas (Sept. 19 vs. Texas Tech), Auburn (Sept. 5 vs. Louisville in Atlanta), Florida (Nov. 28 vs. Florida State), Georgia (Nov. 28 at Georgia Tech), Kentucky (Nov. 28 vs. Louisville), LSU (Sept. 26 at Syracuse), Ole Miss (None), Mississippi State (None), Missouri (None), South Carolina (Thursday, Sept. 3 vs. North Carolina in Charlotte, Nov. 28 vs. Clemson), Tennessee (Sept. 12 vs. Oklahoma), Texas A&M (Sept. 5 vs. Arizona State in Houston), Vanderbilt (None).

  • Texas A&M will actually leave the state of Texas only once in the first 11 weeks of the season (Oct. 24 at Ole Miss). Prior to its Nov. 21 visit to Vanderbilt, A&M will play seven home games and neutral-site games against Arizona State (in Houston) and Arkansas (in Arlington). The Aggies close the season on Saturday, Nov. 28 at LSU, not on Thanksgiving like this season’s finale with the Tigers.
  • With SEC teams getting just one open date apiece in 2015, Ole Miss’ schedule looks like a considerable challenge. The Rebels will play for 10 straight weeks -- including road dates at Alabama, Florida and Auburn -- before taking the weekend off on Nov. 14. They will close the season with a Nov. 21 home game with LSU and the Nov. 28 Egg Bowl at Mississippi State.

Those are just a few of the details that jump out after taking a look at the SEC’s 2015 schedule. Check out the SEC’s official site to see each team’s individual schedule and a week-by-week slate for next fall.

At first glance: SEC Week 8

October, 13, 2014
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There is never a dull moment in the SEC, is there?

Between Mississippi State’s ascension, Ole Miss’ continued rise and Alabama’s sudden ineptitude, this past weekend was a thrill-a-minute. It had everything, even a bit of Les Miles magic and Will Muschamp melodrama.

Sadly, that is all behind us. Only the replays remain.

Now we get to look forward to what promises to be another compelling slate of SEC action.

Game of the week: Texas A&M at Alabama

Talk about two teams with something to prove.

Alabama survived Arkansas in the purest sense of the word. After all, you normally don't go 4-of-15 on third downs, turn the ball over twice and win. But now comes the real test. Everything from the play of the offensive line to the play of the secondary to the play of the quarterback needs fixing.

Texas A&M, on the other hand, must decided whether or not it wants to compete for the postseason. One more loss and it’s over. Heck, after losing by two touchdowns to Ole Miss, it may already be that time. But a win over Alabama on Saturday could change that. Quarterback Kenny Hill still has potential and the Aggies still have plenty of talent. Will they find a way to put it together before it's too late? That’s the million dollar question.

Player under pressure: Maty Mauk

No one in the SEC had a worse week than Missouri quarterback Mauk. He looked absolutely hopeless against Georgia on Saturday, throwing four interceptions.

But Mauk is a gunslinger, and you never know when someone with his gambler’s mentality will find himself riding a hot hand.

Against Florida, we will find out exactly what kind of quarterback Mauk wants to be. Does he want to learn to play within the offense, or will he continue to force passes? Does he want to hit his check down from time to time, or will he continue his all-or-nothing play? Does he want to rediscover his promise from late last season, or will he continue down this path of interceptions and failed opportunities?

Coach under the microscope: Nick Saban

Nick Saban was visibly upset, repeatedly disappointed and then simply frustrated. The only player who got a smile and a pat on the back from Alabama's demanding head coach was the punter, JK Scott. When Blake Sims failed to convert on a fourth-and-inches quarterback sneak, you thought Saban might implode right there on the sideline. Poof. He’s burned away in a white hot fury.

Now Saban gets to take out his frustrations. Now, despite getting the 1-point win, Saban gets to try to make things right.

It’s clear now that the blend of talent and experience of past Alabama teams isn’t there this season. But it’s the uncharacteristic things -- turnovers, penalties, poor decision-making -- that have been plagued the Crimson Tide this season. If you didn't see Saban gesticulating furiously on the sideline, you might say it was bad coaching.

Storyline to watch: Mississippi takes a break

The hierarchy of the SEC has been turned on its ear. The Magnolia State, forever the doormat in the West, is now occupying the penthouse suite.

But this week we get to take a break from all that. Mississippi State’s cowbells will be silent and Ole Miss, a heavy favorite at home against Tennessee, won’t have the chance to Hotty Toddy up the rankings any further.

Instead, this week the rest of the SEC gets to play catchup.

Georgia, which looked good even without Todd Gurley against Missouri, has a chance at Arkansas to further separate itself as the leader in the East. And Alabama or Texas A&M will emerge from Saturday alive and well, while the other will ostensibly be shut out of the division race.

Intriguing matchup: Georgia at Arkansas

Give the Bulldogs’ defense credit. Leonard Floyd played like a beast and Georgia’s much criticized secondary delivered four interceptions against Missouri. The Tigers mustered only 50 yards rushing against Mark Richt’s stout front seven.

But that was nothing compared to what awaits in Fayetteville, Arkansas, this weekend. Where Missouri’s backs try to dance around and hope for a hole, Arkansas’ run straight ahead and make a path by force.

Georgia, quite simply, hasn’t seen an offensive line and a group of running backs like Arkansas’ this season. Between Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall, there isn’t a back you want to see coming off the sideline. Floyd and the rest of that Bulldogs defense will be in for a real test.

Don’t forget about ...: Kentucky at LSU

No one wants a piece of Mark Stoops’ Wildcats these days. Patrick Towles, Javess Blue and Stanley "Boom" Williams have turned around that offense. And A.J. Stamps, Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are wreaking havoc on defense. Kentucky, despite its history of mediocrity, is now a dangerous football team, a young team brimming with confidence and the youthful charm of not knowing any better.

On the other hand, there is LSU. Miles’ young Tigers haven’t been sharp this season, but you wonder about their confidence after going on the road and beating Florida in a close game. It could be just what the the doctor ordered. If Anthony Jennings can take care of the football and Leonard Fournette can continue his success running between the tackles, LSU could turn it around in a hurry.

Something will have to give when these teams meet in Baton Rouge. Either LSU is going to start heading the right direction again, or Kentucky will continue its ascent in the SEC.
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Even as Nick Chubb churned his lower body for 143 yards and Hutson Mason threw for one touchdown and ran for another, there was no doubt what was on the collective mind of college football fans everywhere.

Sure, Georgia dominated Missouri on the road, 34-0, and regained a commanding lead in the SEC East, but what about Todd Gurley?

No. 3 wasn’t in Columbia on Saturday. His personal Heisman Trophy stat tracker was on hold.

Suspended indefinitely pending an NCAA investigation, Gurley couldn’t add to his absurd totals this season: 773 rushing yards, 147 yards on returns, 10 total touchdowns, including a 50-yard pass against Vanderbilt just over a week ago.

“I’m not going to make any predictions,” said coach Mark Richt of anticipating Gurley’s return this season. “I have no idea; I really don’t. We’ll just have to wait and see what comes out of this process.”

From reading the tea leaves in the locker room, Mason is optimistic he’ll see Gurley wearing a Georgia uniform again.

But that comes with a caveat.

“I really have no idea,” Mason admitted. “The chatter of players and coaches was positive ... but I don’t know how much weight that carries.”

Without Gurley, Georgia’s offense looked fine against Missouri. In fact, it might have put together its most efficient game of the season with Chubb, Mason and Brendan Douglas all rushing for touchdowns.

The defense, which struggled some in the secondary coming into the game, picked off Tigers' QB Maty Mauk four times.

“Everyone thinks that the world is falling apart, so we took it upon ourselves to show everybody and show ourselves,” Mason said.

Nonetheless, Georgia could use Gurley’s presence in the backfield, especially when you consider that Chubb had to touch the ball more than 40 times on Saturday. At an average of 3.8 yards per carry, it was a grind for Chubb to hit triple digits.

That kind of workload isn’t easily sustainable, even if you’re talking about a freshman with the kind of physical presence as Chubb.

With Gurley suspended and Sony Michel and Keith Marshall both sidelined with injuries, Georgia's backfield is thin on quality depth. It’s a far cry from the loaded rotation Georgia boasted only a few weeks ago.

“Coming into the season we had five running backs and everything was good,” Chubb said. “We had a full back rotation and everything was wonderful. Now things have changed and everyone has to step up.”

Like almost all of his teammates, Chubb was asked whether he expected to see his running mate again.

“I don’t know,” Chubb said of Gurley's possible return. “It depends on whatever they say.”

The news may come this week, but it could take longer.

The NCAA, as we all know by now, doesn’t work on clear deadlines.

In the meantime, Georgia has to continue on its Gurley-less journey.

It’s not ideal, but coaches and players will compartmentalize in the meantime.

“Everybody knows that life goes on, the season goes on,” Richt said. “Quite frankly, Todd could have had a high ankle sprain a week ago, and we still would have to play. It’s not all that unusual to have to move on.”
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Nick Chubb didn’t smile. He didn’t say a word. Georgia’s young running back stood by his coach at midfield and waited patiently for his turn in front of the television cameras.

After he did his duty and said his piece, he trotted off the field. Thirty-eight carries and four catches had drained him. It’s no wonder he didn’t show much emotion.

But before he could make it to the locker room and regroup, he passed a block of seats allocated to Georgia’s fans. He had to hear them chanting, “Chubb! Chubb! Chubb!” There was a woman holding up a pair of signs: One read “Used to be a Gurley girl,” and the other read, “Now I’m a Chubby girl.”

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonNick Chubb proved to be a workhorse in Georgia's win over Missouri on Saturday.
She might not be the only one jumping off the Todd Gurley bandwagon. With No. 13 Georgia’s star running back suspended indefinitely, Chubb made converts out of many during the Bulldogs' 34-0 beatdown of No. 23-ranked Missouri.

“For the pressure to be on him as a freshman, it’s unbelievable,” quarterback Hutson Mason said. “He’s special.”

If Chubb understands just how special he is, he’s not showing it.

Texting with Gurley Friday night, he had his doubts.

“I can’t do what you do,” he wrote to Gurley.

“Just be Nick Chubb,” Gurley responded.

As it turns out, that vote of confidence was all he needed.

With Gurley’s advice ringing in his ears -- I believe in you, keep running your feet -- Chubb carried the ball 38 times for 143 yards and a touchdown. For good measure, he caught four passes for 31 yards.

“Coming in behind Todd made me a little nervous,” Chubb said. “But I’ve been playing football my whole life, so I just kept doing what I’ve been doing.”

With Chubb punishing Missouri’s front seven and Mason picking apart the Tigers' secondary, Georgia played arguably its most complete game of the season. Its defense, which was criticized for its play against the pass in recent games, intercepted Maty Mauk four times.

It was a statement victory in the SEC East for a team facing very real questions without Gurley in the picture.

“A lot of people were saying the East’s wide open with Todd out,” Chubb said. “We came out and showed everyone we’re still in it.”

“Whether it was because of what happened earlier in the week or not, I don’t know that answer,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said, “but I am just proud of the effort everybody put in.”

No player better typified that effort than Chubb, who had never carried the ball more than 35 times in high school.

Coaches warned him before the game that he might get 45 touches, Chubb said, but he didn’t believe them.

“I thought they might be joking,” he said. “It turns out they weren’t joking at all.”

No one was.

Georgia (5-1, 3-1) is in the driver’s seat to win the SEC East in large part because of Chubb’s play.

Those chants and signs for him after the game were no laughing matter.

He may not be Todd Gurley yet, but Nick Chubb is awfully good on his own.
Earlier this week, Georgia coach Mark Richt hinted at continuing to play two quarterbacks in games going forward. That would mean that starter Hutson Mason would relinquish a few snaps here and there, sometimes in the first half, to redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey.

Richt went on to say that he wouldn’t exactly call it a “rotation,” more of getting his young quarterback’s “feet wet” earlier in games.

Fair enough, considering that Ramsey got one series in the blowout win over Vanderbilt this past weekend.

“It did work out well,” Richt told members of the media earlier this week. “There’s always a chance we’ll continue to do that. I’m not going to sit here and say for sure what we’re going to do because I don’t know for sure. It’s definitely a possibility to keep doing that type of thing.”

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsIt's time to sink or swim with Hutson Mason for Georgia.
But the blowout wheels were in motion from the start in that game. Going forward, things could get tricky for the Dawgs.

Situational play isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Ramsey and the Bulldogs, but now isn’t exactly the time for this team to have any sort of controversy at quarterback. With the indefinite suspension of running back and Heisman Trophy front-runner Todd Gurley for an alleged violation of NCAA rules, the Bulldogs have a very muddy situation on offense at the moment. Interjecting anything that resembles a rotation – intentional or not – could be damaging for a team looking to take a major step in the SEC East race at Missouri on Saturday.

Let’s face it: Georgia’s passing game hasn’t exactly been exciting this season. It’s looked nothing like it did when record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray was in, but with Gurley out of the lineup, it’s time to have Mason wrap his arms around this offense and squeeze it tighter than a Teddy Bear.

What Mason needs is confidence in himself and his receivers. There have been obvious communication and trust issues between Mason and his receivers this season, and he was very vocal about that after the win over Tennessee. You can tell there’s something up when most of the passes made have been at the intermediate level of the field this year.

Mason’s longest pass completion of the season came against Vandy in the form of a 44-yard touchdown to Chris Conley. Ironically, Gurley's 50-yard pass in that game stands as the longest completion for the Dawgs this season.

What really sticks out is how anemic Mason's passing numbers are. Through five games, Mason ranks 12th in the SEC in passing yards per game (137.4), he's completed just 69 passes and has thrown just seven touchdown passes.

Those numbers have been low because of some miscues in the passing game from receivers and Mason, but it’s also been very, very easy to just hand the ball off to Gurley. With that no longer an option -- for at least Saturday’s game against Missouri -- it’s time to trust Mason more to move the offense. It’s time for him to gather those receivers and let them know it’s time to air it out a little bit more.

For now, there’s no real reason to respect the Bulldogs’ passing game. Mason nor his receivers have given any reason to respect it up to this point. Maybe having Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley back will help, so take advantage of it and let Mason run this offense. It isn't time to try alternating quarterbacks, unless the coaches are ready to make a permanent change, which seems very unlikely.

Mason doesn't have the biggest arm around, and that can limit you with the deep ball, but put the offense on Mason's back and see what he can do, especially with two key weapons returning. He has to build confidence and trust in this offense, and he can't do that if he's looking over his shoulder or watching someone else taking snaps from him, even if it is to "get his feet wet."

SEC morning links

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9
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1. Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron took the first opportunity to back away from critical comments he made in a radio interview this week. He now maintains that his critiques of the leadership on this year's Crimson Tide and comments about how Nick Saban might “handcuff” his offensive coordinators were taken out of context when the comments went viral, which represents the “ugly side of the media.” Earlier in the day, Saban disagreed with McCarron's comments about how the team lacks “true leaders like we had last year” by saying, “I don't know how AJ would really know.” McCarron might be telling the truth in saying his comments reflected a message he didn't intend to send, but blaming the blowback on the media is lame. He said what he said. If he meant something else, he should have said that.

2. Mississippi State won't just get back formerly suspended center Dillon Day for this Saturday's matchup with Auburn. The Bulldogs should get receiver Jameon Lewis back, as well, for one of the biggest games in school history. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is trying to keep things in perspective about State's hot start, but that's no easy feat around Starkville these days. The Bulldogs are confident about defending Auburn's offense after faring well against it in 2013, but the Tigers still pulled out a late win that was a pivotal point in their turnaround that led to an SEC title and a spot in the BCS championship game.

3. Fans often dislike early kickoffs, but Georgia prefers it for this week's visit to Missouri with another long road trip on tap for next Saturday against Arkansas. The Bulldogs requested an earlier kickoff Saturday in order to better cope with those travel concerns. But don't expect to hear any more about it from Georgia's players this week. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt cut off media access to the players -- including Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley -- after Tuesday's media sessions with the pivotal SEC East game ahead. Folks at Missouri had plenty to say about Gurley, however. Just check out the comments in Monday's notes from the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Around the SEC:

We all know polls are never wrong, so this is completely relevant. A survey of 800 Kentucky adults showed that 51 percent believed that Kentucky will beat Louisville in next month's Governor's Cup game. Louisville has won the last three meetings between the teams, but got only 27 percent of the vote.

Police in Athens (Ga.)-Clarke County filed a warrant charging wide receiver prospect Darnell Salomon with continuing to use an iPhone that he said he did not steal from a female UGA athlete's dorm room while visiting campus.

The quarterback battle at Florida is not the one we expected after last Saturday's win over Tennessee. It's between Will Grier and Skyler Mornhinweg for the backup spot behind Jeff Driskel.

Texas A&M is extremely happy to be playing back at Kyle Field in Saturday's game against No. 3 Ole Miss.

Tweet of the day:

While we might be piling on the SEC Eastern Division because of how messy it's been, Saturday's matchup between No. 13 Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC) and No. 23 Missouri (4-1, 1-0) has major SEC race implications.

Yes, we're still paying attention to the East.

Georgia is quietly looking like the best that side of the division has to offer, and a win in Columbia, Missouri on Saturday will make the Bulldogs the clear favorite to head back to Atlanta. But if Georgia is going to cross a tough opponent off its list, the secondary has to tighten things up over the middle of the field.

Against Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs' secondary played well facing both Wade Freedbeck and Stephen Rivers, holding them to just 188 total yards. It was the best performance in SEC play, and while it should give this secondary some confidence, we know that Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk is better than what Vandy has to offer.

Mauk is averaging 222 yards per game and has thrown 14 touchdowns to four interceptions this year. He can throw the deep ball well and should be excited about the matchups over the middle.

This team gave up 271 passing yards and three touchdowns in its loss to South Carolina and surrendered 284 passing yards and three more touchdowns in a close win over Tennessee. Defenders are seeing a lot of bend at times in the secondary, and know that against two solid pocket passers, the defense was beaten too many times on passes over the middle part of the field.

“As long as we’re all on the same page, we can execute and do the things we’re supposed to do," cornerback Aaron Davis said.

When you ask players what's happening, most point to communication issues or that guys aren't as disciplined in their positioning. Coach Mark Richt said he feels like his defense is "vulnerable" against passes through the middle. So far, it's only cost the Bulldogs one game, but this is not the weekend they can afford to have similar issues in.

“We’ve got people underneath that need to be walling defenders and safeties that have to react on balls that are thrown either down the middle or to the side," Richt said.

What Richt would also like to see is the Bulldogs dial up a little more pressure against opposing quarterbacks. When Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley left the game with an injury, Georgia's defense was more aggressive and went right at back up Nathan Peterman. It's much easier to bring more men at a backup quarterback, who's on the road, but that's the style the Bulldogs would like to play with more.

“That’s definitely what we want to do up front," linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. "We want to alleviate some stress off of the secondary.”

This team has the pass-rushers in Jenkins and Leonard Floyd to make life miserable for quarterbacks, but you can tell that there's been some hesitation to let them loose more because of some weaknesses in the secondary. But Georgia's defense looked so good against Tennessee when it brought the pressure. Yes, the guy lining up under center helped, but the speed and athleticism the Bulldogs have on defense is so impressive when it's bringing pressure.

Georgia has to be better with its coverage, but we've seen that sending guys at Mauk can be an advantage for defenses. You're on the road and and the East is on the line. No need to hold back now.

“The more pressure you can get on the other team, the more it’s going to rattle them," defensive end Ray Drew said. "You want that kind of confusion from the opposing team.”

SEC morning links

October, 6, 2014
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1. Alabama running back Kenyan Drake suffered a gruesome leg injury during the Crimson Tide's 23-17 loss at Ole Miss, but has received an enormous amount of support since. The injury will likely keep Drake away from the playing field this season, but it was really cool to see the Ole Miss fans cheering him on as he was carted off the field. He was incredibly emotional while leaving the field, but it was great to see the immediate support from the opposing fan base. Very classy.

[+] EnlargeTreon Harris
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsTreon Harris gave the Gators a spark, but don't write him in as Florida's starter just yet.
2. Florida fans want Treon Harris to be the Gators' starting quarterback, but coach Will Muschamp isn't ready to make any sort of decision when it comes to that position. Jeff Driskel struggled mightily against Alabama and Tennessee and was benched in favor of the freshman late in the Tennessee game. Harris then led the Gators on their only two scoring drives in a 10-9 victory. He didn't blow anyone's mind with his 2-for-4 passing performance, but there's controversy in Gainesville, and that's no secret.

3. After watching their team upset Alabama at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, jubilant Ole Miss fans stormed the field to celebrate with their team. The same thing happened in Lexington after Kentucky shocked South Carolina. Personally, I love it. It's one thing that really sets the college game apart from its professional counterpart. But it cost Ole Miss $50,000 and Kentucky $25,000. However, I'm sure Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork and Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart won't mind the financial hit one bit.

Video: Georgia coach Mark Richt

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
7:32
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Coach Mark Richt discusses Todd Gurley's effectiveness and Devin Bowman's touchdown on an interception return following Georgia's 44-17 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
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Mark Richt

ATHENS, Ga. -- Like many Georgia fans spoiled by the numbers and excitement former quarterback Aaron Murray generated during his illustrious Bulldogs career, quarterback Hutson Mason isn’t thrilled with the lack of a downfield passing presence within Georgia’s offense right now.

Four games into the 2014 season, Georgia’s passing game has been a shell of its former high-flying self, as Mason has yet to throw for 200 yards in a game and his longest pass has gone just 36 yards.

The good news is that the Bulldogs have just one loss and are a top-15 team, but Mason understands that this trend of a limited passing game can’t continue if the Dawgs want to make a run at the SEC title.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsShots downfield have been minimal this season for QB Hutson Mason and Georgia.
“We just gotta get better in the passing game all around,” Mason said. “From me to everybody else, we gotta get better.

“I’ll never apologize for winning a ball game. We did what we needed to do, but I will say we need to get better, I need to get better in the passing game.”

But when he was asked what it’s going to take for the passing game to improve, Mason admitted that’s the “million-dollar question.”

“Man, I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “We’ll go back to work; I’ll go back to work. I’ll learn from my mistakes and all I can do is just keep trusting my protection.”

More importantly, Mason added, he needs to develop more chemistry and trust in his receivers. That right there is a major part of the passing game’s struggles. With Malcolm Mitchell nursing a knee injury and Justin Scott-Wesley dealing with an early-season suspension, Georgia’s receiving corps lost some valuable depth during the first month of the season.

Veterans Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, who have combined for 25 catches and 298 yards with two touchdowns, could be gassed from so many practice reps, and youngsters, like Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis are still learning.

Now, freshman running back Sony Michel, who has been exceptional in the passing game thus far, is out for a while with a shoulder injury.

While defenses have taken away the deep ball at times this season, Mason said there have been plenty of miscues, especially in the Tennessee game, by the offense. The biggest has come in the form of miscommunication between Mason and his receivers, he said. There were a few times last Saturday where receivers ran the wrong routes or didn’t hit their marks on routes. Some guys didn’t even turn around at the right time for certain passes.

Because of that, there’s been some trust lost between Mason and his receivers, especially when it comes to deeper throws. And while Mason admitted he’s been off on a few passes this season, the playbook has been limited because timing with this group of receivers hasn’t been as crisp as it needs to be.

“The more confident we get in each other, the more confidence I get in my guys, the more confidence we give [offensive coordinator] Coach [Mike] Bobo to call plays down the field, the better we’ll get,” Mason said. “That’s where it starts is execution, and right now we’re not executing so it’s hard for everybody to have full confidence in each other when you’re not executing it.”

Head coach Mark Richt said last Saturday that he hopes Mitchell and Scott-Wesley will return to practice this week. He also hopes to get senior Jonathon Rumph (hamstring) back soon, too. So help is coming, which should help open things up and should get some rhythm back in this passing game.

However, with the health of Mitchell and Rumph not a guarantee going forward, Mason and his receivers have to jell better. Mason said the passing game starts with him, and he hasn’t shied away from some of his shortcomings this season, but he also understands that the guys who need to catch the ball have to help out more, too.

“When you’re in there, you gotta execute,” he said. “There’s really no excuse. It’s my job to trust it, and if I don’t trust it then it’s not gonna work. That trust starts with you gotta execute it and you gotta make the plays. The more plays you make, the more trust Coach Bobo will have in throwing the ball down the field … and the more I’ll have trust in my guys.”

Video: Georgia coach Mark Richt

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
4:24
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Georgia coach Mark Richt praised his team for its effort as the No. 12 Bulldogs held off Tennessee, 38-35, on Saturday.
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Mark Richt

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