published Friday, October 11th, 2013

Missing pieces: Bobo's play-calling challenged with rash of Georgia injuries

ATHENS, Ga. — Last Saturday's overtime win at Tennessee was the 87th consecutive game in which Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo called the plays for the Bulldogs.

It was an experience unlike his first 86.

Knowing he would be without starting tailback Todd Gurley due to a sprained ankle, Bobo lost the services of backup tailback Keith Marshall in the first quarter and receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley in the third quarter. The Bulldogs were left with freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas to share the carries and had freshman Reggie Davis and former walk-on Rhett McGowan among their top receivers.

"We had our plays that we had practiced, and we tried to coach the guys up each series on what we were going to do that series," Bobo said this week. "There were certain things that I knew they couldn't run. We went a little more basic, but we were able to call enough to win the game."

The Bulldogs sent the game into overtime on a 10-play, 75-yard drive that took one minute and 49 seconds, leaving five seconds of regulation to spare.

Bennett got hurt on Georgia's opening possession of the third quarter, but the Bulldogs used Green runs of 7, 12, 4 and 32 yards to set up a first-and-10 at Tennessee's 18-yard line. Neyland Stadium was lifeless as the Bulldogs led 17-3 and were poised for more, but that's when the youth and inexperience emerged.

Georgia suddenly backtracked, and a 39-yard Marshall Morgan field-goal try that could have made it a three-possession game hit the upright and revived the Neyland faithful.

"Things were going well with what we were doing, but then we had a missed assignment on two runs back-to-back down there in the red zone," Bobo said. "On third down we got a delay, so we basically shot ourselves in the foot three straight plays and left ourselves with a third-and-long. If I could do it over again, I wish we had gotten us in the right play and ran the run right, but that happens."

Marshall and Scott-Wesley are out for the season with ACL injuries, joining receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who was sidelined for the year in the opening loss at Clemson. Gurley remains doubtful for Saturday's game between the No. 7 Bulldogs and No. 25 Missouri Tigers in Sanford Stadium.

Bennett had his knee scoped this week after tearing his meniscus and is not expected back until the Nov. 2 game against Florida at the earliest.

The Bulldogs still have quarterback Aaron Murray, now the SEC's all-time passing leader, and Green wound up with 129 yards on 17 carries against the Volunteers. Chris Conley is still healthy and leads the team with 20 catches for 318 yards and three touchdowns, with Rantavious Wooten next on the healthy list with eight catches for 84 yards.

"We still have talent at all those positions, and we have a talented offensive line that can run-block and pass-block," Conley said. "Plus we have a quarterback like Aaron, so we don't have to lean too heavily on one area or the other. I think it will be Georgia football as usual, but with different guys."

Said Murray: "We would definitely love to be at full strength, but injuries happen. It's the next guy up, and the young guys, especially the receivers, are going to have to work a little extra harder."

Bobo went through such a season when he was the top quarterback for the 1995 Bulldogs. Georgia opened that year with tailback Robert Edwards scoring five touchdowns in a resounding 42-23 win over South Carolina, but Edwards was lost for the season the following week in a 30-27 loss at No. 8 Tennessee.

Georgia moved up to No. 20 after a 40-13 rout of New Mexico State, but Bobo was lost for the season the following week at Ole Miss, and the Bulldogs limped to a 6-6 finish in coach Ray Goff's final year. Bobo, Brian Smith and Hines Ward made starts at quarterback that season, with Edwards, Ward, Selma Calloway, Larry Bowie, Torin Kirtsey and Robert Arnaud getting starts at tailback.

"I was one of them who was hurt, so I really didn't get to experience that as a player," Bobo said.

Bobo admitted that he couldn't sleep Monday night, so he got to work early Tuesday morning. His offense was averaging 554 yards and 41.2 points per game this time last week, but going "basic" resulted in those averages dipping to 530 and 39.8.

Those are still record numbers for Georgia's program, but can they continue?

"The bottom line is getting the guys ready to play and getting them the plan, helping them execute it and getting them to believe," Bobo said. "There are no excuses on Saturday. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us, I can promise you that."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

WHO TO TURN TO?

Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo still has quarterback Aaron Murray available for Saturday's game against visiting Missouri, but most of his weapons from the beginning of the season are sidelined:

TOP TAILBACKS

Todd Gurley -- doubtful with a sprained ankle

Keith Marshall -- out for the season with a torn ACL

J.J. Green -- freshman to make first career start

TOP RECEIVERS

Malcolm Mitchell -- out for the season with a torn ACL

Michael Bennett -- out until November with meniscus tear

Chris Conley -- healthy through the first five games

Justin Scott-Wesley -- out for the season with a torn ACL

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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