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Get to know MU's opponent: Bulldogs still have bite despite injuries

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, at 6:33 p.m.

Even Mark Richt is getting tired of talking about the mounting injuries for his seventh-ranked Georgia football team.

Still, it’s the biggest storyline of the week for Georgia, which had already lost wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell for the season to a torn ACL before tailback Keith Marshall and another receiver, Justin Wesley-Scott, were lost for the season Saturday in an overtime at Tennessee.

Officially, the Bulldogs’ leading rusher, Todd Gurley, who has 71 carries for 450 yards and four touchdowns, hasn’t been ruled out for the Missouri game. He has been limited in practice with a sprained ankle and certainly won’t be at full strength even if he does suit up.

“Whenever somebody’s top two running backs are out, it’s a good time to face them,” Missouri junior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said. “We know how it is (dealing with injuries from last year). It’s not a good place to be.”

Look for freshman J.J. Green to get the bulk of the carries if Gurley can’t go or is limited.

“Having an experienced quarterback in (Aaron) Murray, he’s a heckuva player, and he’ll help that whole situation for them,” Pinkel said.

Still, that’s just the tip of the iceberg on Georgia’s injury front.

Wide receiver Michael Bennett, who had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus suffered against the Vols, is out and starting free safety Tray Matthews, who missed the Tennessee game, remains sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Even punter Collin Barber remains questionable because of a concussion.

It doesn’t guarantee anything for Missouri, but the Tigers are definitely getting a wounded Bulldogs squad for a key matchup with possible SEC East title implications.

We asked Georgia beat writer Marc Weiszer of the Athens (Ga.) Banner Herald — you can follow him on Twitter at @marcweiszer — to catch us up on a few other storylines for the Missouri game, which kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Sanford Stadium and will be televised on ESPN:

• Q: Is there some buzz about this game? Are Georgia fans worried about playing a red-hot Missouri team or does it feel like a gimme around Athens?

A: There’s certainly more buzz about this game than there would have been two weeks ago. Georgia’s injury situation on offense has sounded alarm bells. The Bulldogs were already without Todd Gurley with a sprained ankle. To lose his replacement, Keith Marshall, and two of its top wideouts, Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley, was hard to fathom. Add to that Missouri whipping Vanderbilt in Nashville and jumping into the top 25, suddenly this game has a different feel to it.

• Q: Everybody talks about the injuries. What’s the latest on Gurley and how much will the Dawgs’ woes affect Saturday’s game? Is there confidence that Georgia’s depth is good enough to still provide the upperhand?

A: Mark Richt said after practice Wednesday that Gurley did some straight-ahead running to test out the ankle but wasn’t ready to practice. He’s still considered doubtful to play against Missouri, but Richt isn’t ruling him out. It remains to be seen how Georgia’s offense will fare without so many offensive weapons. Expecting them to keep scoring 40 points a game may be a stretch, although you could see the tight ends get more involved or perhaps fullback Quayvon Hicks. The players say they are confident that the replacements can handle increased roles.

• Q: Aaron Murray sure seems to have found another level this season. In what ways is he a better player as a senior than he was last season? Any chance Missouri’s versatility on defense and propensity for shifting personnel and schemes within the game throw him off?

A: Murray’s confidence seems to be at another level. There’s a sense that when Georgia needs to get a touchdown — with their season riding on it — he can take the team downfield and get in the end zone. He did it against LSU. He did against Tennessee. He’s also looking to extend plays, whether that means scrambling out of the pocket or even picking up yards with his feet like he did when he ran for 57 yards last week.

Murray has been a cool customer for the most part this season, but if it will be interesting to see if Missouri’s defensive line — which has two interceptions — can affect the passing game not only by rushing but by dropping into coverage.

• Q: At least statistically, Georgia’s pass defense hasn’t been great. How do you think it will fair against James Franklin and Missouri’s passing attack? Is the run defense good enough to shut down the Southeastern Conference’s top rushing attack?

A: Unless Georgia flips the switch with its pass defense, I think it could be a big day for Franklin and the receivers. Marcus Lucas had a 41-yard touchdown catch last year against Georgia and L’Damian Washington scored on a 69-yard reception. Cornerback Damian Swann, Georgia’s best corner entering the season, has had a down year and the Bulldogs are relying on young but talented guys in the secondary including Shaq Wiggins, Brendan Langley and Josh Harvey-Clemons. Georgia’s run defense has been improved over last season, shutting down LSU’s power running game but gave up 189 to Tennessee last week. Missouri’s stats are impressive, but they haven’t played a bunch of top defenses either.

• Q: Many Missouri fans who might travel for the game probably haven’t been to Sanford Stadium before. What are some must-not-miss things about the gameday experience the Tigers’ faithful will want to check out?

A: I actually asked my followers on Twitter after I got a similar question from a first-time visitor this summer. They suggested going to the Dawg Walk (at 10:10 a.m. this week outside the stadium), ringing the Chapel Bell after the game (if Georgia wins) and go grab a meal at the Last Resort downtown.

Other suggestions were to listen to the Redcoat Band practice on Friday night and to get in your seat about 30 minutes before kickoff to hear “The Battle Hymn” played and “Saturday in Athens” video on the big screen. Looks like the forecast is for temps in the lower 80s with no rain so it should be a good day to watch some football and see Athens.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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