By SETH EMERSON
@BR Box Type bold lede colon:QUARTERBACKS: It’s almost hard to believe Murray was supposed to be the team’s biggest question mark. The redshirt freshman has been the most consistent player on offense and a rare bright spot. Not only has he kept the turnovers at a minimum (three interceptions and no fumbles in six games) but he ranks third in the SEC with 1,366 passing yards and has given the Bulldogs a lift with his feet. ... A-
RUNNING BACKS: Washaun Ealey and Caleb King talked about each rushing for 1,000 yards. They may not combine for that this year. Ealey was suspended for the opener after an arrest, and King is out the next two after his own arrest. Carlton Thomas offered hope as a change-of-pace back but doesn’t look capable of being the main ball-carrier. King was starting to separate himself, according to coaches, but now he has to sit and the team has to hope the running game re-ignites without him. ... D
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RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: A.J. Green has been spectacular – but only after his NCAA-mandated four-game suspension. Kris Durham filled in ably in his absence, but otherwise the unit has been inconsistent. The tight ends have not been involved as much as anticipated. But the issue hasn’t been drops, rather things outside their control, such as Green’s absence and poor pass protection.
OFFENSIVE LINE: At the beginning of the season this was the team’s bedrock, perhaps the most veteran line in the country. Six games later it has a true freshman at right guard, and only two starters at their original spot. The Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC in rushing and have given up 14 sacks (tied for ninth in the SEC). The line is neck-and-neck with the running backs for the team’s most disappointing unit. The edge probably goes to the front five.
DEFENSIVE LINE: In a 3-4, the main job of the line is to help stop the run, get some push on passing downs, and everything else is gravy. So in that regard the line has been fine, with the exception of getting gashed by South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore. But there hasn’t been much gravy: Brandon Wood’s sack against Tennessee was the first for the unit.
LINEBACKERS: Justin Houston leads the SEC with 5.5 sacks, and Akeem Dent is tied for fourth in tackles. Georgia’s defense ranks fifth in the league against the run, and fifth overall, with the linebackers a big reason why. But the unit could use a bit more consistency.
SECONDARY: Head coach Mark Richt pointed out this week that the Bulldogs have forced a lot of third-and-longs – where the problems of the defense have largely begun. That’s on the secondary. The defensive backs have suffered a slew of coverage breakdowns, which may have decided the Arkansas game, and played large roles in the other three losses.
SPECIAL TEAMS: After a shaky start, all these units are rounding into form. Georgia’s kickoff coverage ranks first in the SEC, Blair Walsh is 11-for-12 on field goal attempts and Drew Butler has recovered from a poor couple games. The return units have been solid, without breaking many big runs.
COACHING: Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo drew a lot of fan ire the first four games, but his play-calling has looked a lot better with Green in there. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is still in his honeymoon phase, but the numbers are only slightly improved so far. As for Richt, he reacted to the struggles last week with physical practices. The question is whether it was too late.
TEAM: A team that was expected to contend for the SEC East will instead have to scramble just to make a bowl. And it all can’t be blamed on Green’s suspension. There’s plenty of season left, but the first half of the 2010 season will be marked as perhaps the poorest stretch in Richt’s tenure.