Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood (83) catches a first quarter touchdown pass as Western Kentucky defensive back Jonathan Dowling (1) defends in an NCAA college football game at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
ATHENS, Ga. — Alabama and Georgia have healthy quarterbacks and fresh tailback tandems entering Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship showdown in Atlanta.
The same cannot be said at receiver.
Each team has been depleted at that position, with Alabama's DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell and Georgia's Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown out with season-ending injuries. Bell, who has 17 catches for 431 yards and leads the Crimson Tide with 25.4 yards a reception, broke his leg during last Saturday's 49-0 win over Auburn.
White, Bennett and Brown each suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments.
"It's just something that goes with being a receiver," Alabama's Kevin Norwood said. "We do the most running and the most cutting and planting. Usually that stuff takes a toll on our bodies."
White had a 51-yard touchdown in Alabama's opening rout of Michigan and had at least one catch a game until going down in the fifth game against Ole Miss.
The losses of Bennett and Brown sidelined Georgia's leading receiver on each occasion. Bennett tallied 24 receptions for 345 yards in just five games, while Brown had 27 catches for 469 yards in eight games.
Georgia's leading receivers now are sophomore Malcolm Mitchell (36 for 532) and fifth-year senior Tavarres King (34 for 704), but Mitchell has been limited this week with a shoulder injury.
"We're very thin at the position, and we're a little banged up," Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "This is our 13th game, and there is a little area of concern with those guys considering how much volume and how many reps they've had. I know there will be a lot of juice on Saturday, but we've just got to get through this week of practice and stay healthy and be smart with them during the game.
"Last week, we did some two tight-end sets to help them out."
The attrition at Georgia has resulted in lesser-known wideouts such as Rhett McGowan and Justin Scott-Wesley having more of a role. McGowan, a former walk-on from Calhoun High School, has nine catches this season and six this month.
In last Saturday's 42-10 win over Georgia Tech, the 6-foot, 190-pound junior caught his first touchdown of the year.
"This is the biggest game I've ever played in without any question, and I wish it would hurry up," McGowan said. "I think we've had time for our guys to step up and get comfortable, and I think the backups will be just as good at Alabama, because they have a really deep team. They get the best players every year."
King is 12th in the SEC with 58.7 yards a game, and Mitchell is 14th (48.4). Alabama freshman Amari Cooper has a team-leading 45 receptions for 767 yards, with his 63.9 yards a game ranking 10th in the league.
Cooper has amassed three 100-yard games this season, with the 6-1, 198-pounder from Miami racking up 162 against Tennessee, 136 against Texas A&M and 109 against Auburn. He is on pace to produce a similar freshman season to Julio Jones, who had 58 catches for 924 yards in 2008.
"The one you obviously notice is Cooper," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He's definitely the go-to guy, the deep-ball guy and has made some wonderful plays. Some of their long-yardage receptions have been just launching it out there deep and him making a play.
"He's also caught a couple of shorter-range balls, made people miss and taken it to the house."
Norwood (26 for 395) and Christion Jones (24 for 306) rank second and third among Crimson Tide receivers, with tight end Michael Williams (19 for 161) next. One option now available for Alabama is touted freshman Chris Black, who was thought to be lost for the season after sustaining a shoulder injury in August.
The last SEC team standing could be determined by the ravaged receiving corps with the most production.
"It's always a difficult circumstance," Tide coach Nick Saban said, "but we have other good players who have played consistently for us this year. We're going to try to put them in the best position to utilize the skills they have and hopefully make some plays for us."
Odds and ends
Alabama's AJ McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel are among the 10 quarterback finalists for the Manning Award, which is handed out following bowl-game performances. ... The Tide worked out indoors for two hours in full pads Wednesday, while the Bulldogs worked out for two hours outside in helmets and shorts. ... Mitchell and cornerback Damian Swann (neck) were limited again, but Richt said both were fine and would play.
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 ...