What Disastrous Rash of Injuries Means for Georgia's SEC Title Chances
Depth means everything in the SEC, and Georgia is finding that out the hard way.
Three Georgia skill-position players came out with what appeared to be serious injuries in the Bulldogs' 34-31 overtime win over Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday afternoon.
Running back Keith Marshall injured his knee in the first quarter after he was hit low coming out of the backfield as a receiver. Marshall—a sophomore who'd rushed for 213 yards and a touchdown coming in—was helped off the field and didn't return.
Wide receiver Michael Bennett injured his knee in the third quarter while pushing a pile. CBS' Tracy Wolfson reported during the broadcast that Bennett suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee, the same knee in which he tore his ACL last season.
Later in the third quarter, fellow wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley was lost for the game with a knee injury of his own. Scott-Wesley's came while he was covering a punt. Like Bennett's, it was also a non-contact injury and didn't look good.
So how will it impact Georgia's SEC title hopes if the trio is out for a prolonged period of time?
The impact of Marshall's injury depends on how long it takes starter Todd Gurley—who missed this game with an ankle injury—to get back to full speed.
Marshall isn't an ordinary backup running back. He led the SEC in runs of 50 or more yards as a true freshman last season. He's "1B" to Gurley's "1A." While Gurley is the total package between the tackles and in space, Marshall is that electric home run threat that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo can rely upon in a variety of capacities.
If Gurley comes back next week, freshman J.J. Green is more than capable of filling in as the changeup back moving forward. Green rushed for 129 yards on Saturday and had a huge 18-yard run on Georgia's game-winning drive last week in the 44-41 win over LSU.
The injuries to the wide receivers are tough.
Bennett was quarterback Aaron Murray's favorite target before his season-ending injury last season, and Scott-Wesley emerged as one of Murray's go-to guys this season. He caught 16 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns on the season before leaving the game against Tennessee.
Junior Chris Conley is the man who has to step up. He had five catches for 64 yards and one spectacular touchdown against the Vols. He has a team-high 20 receptions on the season. The 6'3", 206-pounder from Dallas, Ga., has home run speed and good hands, and he's earned Murray's trust over the last two seasons.
Rantavious Wooten—the fifth-year senior who caught the two-yard touchdown from Murray that sent the Tennessee game to overtime—also has to play like he did on Saturday, when he caught a career-high six passes. He has 42 catches and eight touchdowns in his career, and he needs to be the veteran presence in the depleted corps.
It'd help if Jonathon Rumph can get healthy. The 6'5", 208-pound junior-college transfer has been hampered by a nagging hamstring injury. But he has the body and hands to be a major weapon over the middle, on 50/50 balls and in the red zone.
True freshman Reggie Davis will also be asked to step up. Murray hit Davis for a 98-yard touchdown, Davis' first career reception, in Georgia's win over North Texas. He only has four catches on the season, and the 6'0", 159-pounder doesn't exactly have the build to be a possession receiver, but he has the potential to be a star. He needs to realize that potential sooner rather than later.
Expect tight end Arthur Lynch to become a bigger contributor as well.
At 6'5" and 254 pounds, Lynch has the size, speed and hands to be a dangerous weapon up the seam. He has already established himself as a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
With reliable targets dwindling, the ones who remain need to step up.
Is Georgia still the SEC East favorite?
All is not lost for Georgia. Head coach Mark Richt has playmakers left, but that list getting shorter by the quarter.
The good news for Georgia is that it got out of Knoxville with a win. It was a stressful, tenuous and nail-biting win, but style points don't matter in the SEC standings.
Georgia still holds a one-game lead and a tiebreaker on South Carolina—one of the primary contenders in the SEC East. With that game in the rear-view mirror, the Bulldogs are still unquestionably the favorites to make a return trip to Atlanta as division champs.
But the margin for error is even thinner now.
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