The injury bug has hit Georgia harder than any BCS National Championship contender so far this season, and the maladies continued this week for the Bulldogs.
Star running back Todd Gurley was out Week 6 against Tennessee with an ankle injury suffered the previous week against LSU. Against the Vols, the situation only grew worse when second-string running back Keith Marshall and receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley all left the game with injuries.
When the dust settled, UGA escaped Knoxville with a 34-31 win in overtime, but will have to continue the rest of the season without Marshall and Scott-Wesley. Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph tweeted that both Bulldog playmakers suffered ACL tears and will miss the remainder of the year.
Justin Scott-Wesley and Keith Marshall are out for the season with an ACL injury, Mark Richt announces.— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) October 6, 2013
Meanwhile, Bennett's status is still uncertain. The senior will have his knee scoped this week and will at least miss UGA's date with Mizzou this week, Emerson reported.
WR Michael Bennett will have his knee scoped on Tuesday to determine his status. Definitely won't play this week.— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) October 6, 2013
The Georgia receiving corps was already without top receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who tore his ACL in Week 1 against Clemson. Now, it will have to carry on without the speedy Scott-Wesley and without Bennett as well, at least for a short time.
With all the absences, quarterback Aaron Murray and the UGA offense will continue to rely on a committee of receivers. Junior Chris Conley has already emerged as a go-to option in Mitchell's absence and will have to continue that role going forward.
Aside from Conley, the Dawgs will look to receivers Reggie Davis and Rantavious Wooten, as well as tight end Arthur Lynch.
Davis, a freshman, has just four catches in his career, but showed deep-threat ability in his 98-yard touchdown reception against North Texas. Wooten also showed excellent signs of stepping up against Tennessee. The senior had a career game, bringing in two touchdown receptions, against the Vols.
Finally, Lynch has been one of the most consistent targets for UGA this season. The senior has 11 receptions for 169 yards and two scores. At 6'5", 254 pounds, he will continue to be a security blanket for Murray.
Richt "We're not going to push him (Gurley), we like the two true freshman backs...last thing we want to do it rush Todd back."— Georgia Bulldogs (@UGAAthletics) October 6, 2013
Richt identified two true freshman runners who will fill the voids left by Marshall and Gurley in the meantime. Freshman J.J. Green emerged as a viable option against UT.
Who will be the biggest factor for the UGA offense going forward?
The Kingsland, Ga. native tallied 129 yards off 17 carries in the win. Fellow freshman Brendan Douglas also showed promise as a potentially powerful complement to the speedy Green.
Douglas, a hard downhill runner, had 10 carries for 25 yards and a score against the Vols.
Since that is out of the question, the Dawgs will have to lean on Douglas and Green to do the job, while hoping to see Gurley's full return in due time.
While they escaped with a victory against Tennessee, they'll face a nasty Florida rush defense, ranked No. 2 in the nation, on Nov. 2. If all goes to plan, UGA will face an even tougher test in the SEC title game against Alabama.
For now, though, Georgia has no choice but to press forward. The Bulldogs will take on No. 25 Missouri and Vanderbilt in the next two weeks. Then, they will have one timely bye week before they take on Florida.
UGA already has its work cut out for it to find a backdoor route to the BCS title game, and the injuries are only making that road more difficult.
To get the job done, the character of Murray and Co. will be put through a gauntlet going forward.