ATHENS - Georgia’s offense has carried the team this season, but now the unit will have to “dig deep,” after it got the bad news it was expecting on Sunday
Two more of its key players are out for the season. Tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley tore their ACLs in Saturday’s 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee.
Receiver Michael Bennett also sustained a knee injury, but the extent of it will not be known until arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday, head coach Mark Richt said. Richt did not offer a timetable for Bennett's return, only saying it will not be for this week's game against Missouri.
The team was already without its top receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, who tore his ACL the season opener at Clemson.
Never miss a local story.
"It's sad," Richt said. "You see them work so hard to put themselves in position to play for Georgia, and realize their dreams of wanting to play in big games like that, and championships, and try to win championships and all that. ... And one play like that, it's taken away from them. It's heartbreaking. I don't know what hurts more, the pain of the injury or the pain of knowing you're not gonna be able to play again for awhile."
Richt shrugged off a question about the turf at Neyland Stadium, indicating he didn't blame it for the injuries.
Meanwhile, tailback Todd Gurley (sprained ankle) remains day-to-day after missing the Tennessee game. Richt vowed not to rush Gurley, sounding willing to hold him out against unbeaten Missouri, which entered the Associated Press poll at No. 25 this week.
If only the injury list stopped there.
Also uncertain for this week are starting free safety Tray Matthews, who missed the Tennessee game with a hamstring injury, and punter Collin Barber, who suffered a concussion late on Saturday.
Safety Connor Norman, who missed the Tennessee game with a concussion, has a "realistic shot" to play against Missouri, according to Richt. That’s about the only good news Richt received from the training staff on Sunday.
"When you know some of these guys are out for the season obviously you know it's a long season, there's a lot more ball to be played," Richt said. " We've just gotta dig deep, and get some other guys opportunities, and get them all repped up, and get them ready to make some plays."
At receiver, two possible sources of help are still uncertain: Junior college transfer Jonathan Rumph (hamstring) remains “very doubtful” for the Missouri game, according to Richt. Freshman Tramel Terry, himself recovering from ACL surgery last December, is not certain to be healthy enough to play.
Terry also hasn't been practicing with the first-team unit, making it hard to be ready. But he’s a talented enough player that if he’s available he could make a difference.
"I just think the longer he practices, coming back from his injury the better he'll be. Is he ready for this type of competition, I don’t know,” Richt said. "I'm not counting him out yet, but I really don't know the answer right now.”
Redshirt freshmen Blake Tibbs and Kenneth Towns are each going to get increased snaps at practice, and could figure into the rotation. Towns, a walk-on, was on the field at the end of the Tennessee game but did not have a ball thrown his way.
Richt said he wasn't thinking of moving any other players to receiver "right now."
At tailback, freshman J.J. Green had an outstanding game at Tennessee, rushing for 129 yards on 17 carries. Fellow freshman Brendan Douglas, who has 64 yards on 21 carries this season, has also seen early action.
Another freshman, A.J. Turman, has yet to play this season, but he traveled with the team to Tennessee and could have played. Walk-ons Brandon Harton and Kyle Karempelis also have playing experience are "possibilities," according to Richt.
"You don't normally go beyond three backs, but if Gurley can't go we've gotta figure out what we're gonna do," Richt said. "We like the two freshmen that have played recently, we think they're good football players, and A.J. is a talent, and these other two guys, Karempelis and Harton have played for us before. So the last thing we want to do is rush the thing on Todd."
Georgia at least has the talents of quarterback Aaron Murray and an improving offensive line to soften the blow. The Bulldogs are averaging 530 yards per game, ranking third in the SEC and 11th in the nation, despite playing a challenging schedule.
"When you know some of these guys are out for the season obviously you know it's a long season, there's a lot more ball to be played," Richt said. "It's a physical game, and the guys that carry the ball and the guys that catch the ball, those guys are more susceptible to being hurt than the others. We've just gotta dig deep, and get some other guys opportunities, and get them all repped up, and get them ready to make some plays."
Marshall was hurt on a screen pass in the first quarter, and Bennett on an offensive play in the third quarter. Scott-Wesley was injured while covering a punt in the third quarter. The three are not eligible for medical redshirts, as the injury happened in the fifth game, one past the cut-off. Scott-Wesley and Bennett have already redshirted, while Marshall is a second-year sophomore.
Marshall finishes the season with 246 rushing yards and one touchdown on 56 carries. He is also the team's fifth-leading receiver right now, with eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Scott-Wesley is second on the team in both catches (16) and receiving yards (311). He has two of the team's biggest moments of the season thus far: The game-winning touchdown catch against LSU, and the 85-yard touchdown catch in the win over South Carolina.
Bennett is third on the team in catches (14) and receiving yards (176). Both of his touchdown catches came in the win over LSU.
Last year Bennett tore the ACL in his right knee during practice leading up to the game at South Carolina. At the time, Bennett was leading the team in catches and receiving yards.
This past week, Bennett dinged the same knee in practice, and spent part of Wednesday's practice working on the side, testing it out. He was healthy enough to play on Saturday.