By DAVID HALE
ATHENS, Ga. — For the past eight weeks, wide receiver A.J. Green has been the foundation of Georgia’s offense. This week, the Bulldogs will get their first taste of life without their superstar.
Green suffered a bruised lung after taking a hit in the third quarter against Florida last week and will miss Saturday’s game against Tennessee Tech. That opens the door for some of Georgia’s other receivers to step up, and head coach Mark Richt is hoping they’ll make the most of their opportunity.
“Those guys are going to have to make plays, and I’m hoping that they do make plays and gain confidence,” Richt said. “In the long run, it may end up being a blessing for us to get some guys with some more opportunities.”
Redshirt freshman Tavarres King and true freshman Rantavious Wooten will be Georgia’s starters at receiver on Saturday, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, and fellow freshman Marlon Brown is expected to see an uptick in playing time, too, after seeing little action in Georgia’s first eight games.
None of the three have shown an ability to consistently make plays of late, and in the past five games, Green and senior Michael Moore are the only to receivers to have more than two catches in one game.
“You are obviously going to miss a guy like (Green), but I think we have guys like that that can step up and make plays,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “Wooten has been getting better every week in practice, making plays showing he should be in some plays in games. We’re looking forward to seeing who’s going to step up and who’s going to fill that spot.”
Brown may be the wild card Saturday. He has just two catches this season, both coming against Tennessee on Oct. 10. Brown suffered a hip pointer after that, however, and has been limited during practice for the past two weeks.
He’ll get his shot this week, Bobo said, and after a long season on the sideline, the injury to Green may be the opportunity he’s been waiting for.
“He has a lot of ability, too, and we definitely want to give him the opportunity to get on the field and make plays,” Cox said of Brown. “He’s already been on the field this year, but he hasn’t had a lot of balls thrown his way. This could be a good week to make a statement about his future.”
As for Green, Cox said the sophomore receiver said he felt good Sunday and reported no further problems so far this week. Richt said he expected Green to be ready to return to action next week when Georgia hosts Auburn.
“We’re not 100-percent certain but the history of this type of an injury by the second week everybody has played to this point, so we don’t have any reason to think that he won’t,” Richt said.
NOT GONNA HAPPEN
After Cox’s three-interception performance against Florida, some fans were hoping one of Georgia’s two freshman quarterbacks might make his first appearance of the season this week, but Richt said that won’t be the case.
Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger will both redshirt this season, Richt said, but he admitted there was discussion about giving one of them playing time this week.
“It was discussion,” Richt said. “It wasn’t just like, well their freshmen don’t do it. We talked about it.”
In the end, several factors kept Richt from pulling the trigger.
For one, Murray had missed several weeks of practice earlier this season with elbow tendonitis. More importantly, Richt said, neither quarterback had proven he was ready to take over the job.
“We just didn’t feel that this late in the season that it was time to do it, and they (hadn’t) earned the right to be the starter,” Richt said. “If you’re going to put a freshman in there, you start him and you start him the rest of the way. But did anybody really earn that? They didn’t. … We’ve got extremely high hopes for their careers, but to say one guy earned it over another, that didn’t happen.”
KING FOR A DAY
Freshman tailback Washaun Ealey started for the second straight game last week and picked up a career-high 70 yards on 17 carries against Florida’s tough defense, but Richt said Tuesday that sophomore Caleb King would get the starting nod this week.
“We’re not highly disappointed in Washaun at all,” Richt said. “Washaun will continue to play, but Caleb has proved to be the one guy … that is much stronger in his pass protection right now.”
The pass protection problems for Ealey were on display in the third quarter when Cox threw his second interception of the game. Ealey missed a block and Cox was forced out of the pocket, throwing a pass under duress toward the sideline. The turnover thwarted a key drive for the Bulldogs, and Florida solidified its lead from there.
King didn’t see nearly as much action as Ealey against the Gators, but Richt said he was pleased with the work that King did get. For the season, King has played in just five games, rushing 40 times for 154 yards and a touchdown. He also has four receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown and has looked sharp in pass protection.