published Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Georgia's offense on record pace despite injuries

Georgia receiver Michael Bennett looks for running room in the double-overtime win at Georgia Tech.
Georgia receiver Michael Bennett looks for running room in the double-overtime win at Georgia Tech.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Wednesday's Gator Bowl against Nebraska is far from the most meaningful postseason appearance in Georgia football history, but the Bulldogs have an opportunity for some new offensive standards.

Georgia is averaging 489.2 yards and 38.2 points per game entering its matchup against the Cornhuskers, with each of those ahead of last year's team that set program records in both categories. The Bulldogs averaged 467.6 yards and 37.8 points a year ago, when they capped a 12-2 season with a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.

"It's really been awesome to see us still put up numbers like this even with a bunch of guys down," redshirt junior receiver Michael Bennett said. "I think it just shows our depth, and it's just been amazing to see that when one guy goes down, another guy steps in and we still put up record-breaking numbers. It's also a tribute to our coaches, because they've had to adapt as guys have gone down and kind of change the game plan a little bit."

The injury bug that has plagued Georgia's offense this season followed the team to Jacksonville.

Before Saturday's two-hour practice, coach Mark Richt told reporters that junior receiver Chris Conley sprained his ankle during Friday's workout. Conley leads the Bulldogs with 42 catches for 605 yards and four touchdowns, and he racked up 136 receiving yards in Georgia's win over Nebraska in Orlando.

"We're not ruling him out," said Richt, noting that it's the same ankle that caused Conley to miss two games in early November.

Georgia can set new school marks by scoring 35 points and amassing just over 200 yards against the Cornhuskers.

The Bulldogs were expected to have a stout offense this season with 10 starters back, but top returning receiver Malcolm Mitchell tore his ACL midway through the first quarter in the opener at Clemson. Top tailback Todd Gurley sprained his ankle in the fourth game against LSU, which caused him to miss a month, and then backup tailback Keith Marshall and deep-threat receiver Justin Scott-Wesley were lost for the season in the fifth game against Tennessee with ACL tears.

Bennett tore his meniscus at Tennessee, which caused him to miss the rest of October, and the Bulldogs endured their worst stretch after returning from Knoxville, when they lost to visiting Missouri and lost at Vanderbilt before getting a needed open date. Georgia avoided injury at quarterback until Aaron Murray tore his ACL in the 11th game against Kentucky.

"The bottom line is winning ballgames, and 8-4 is not where we want to be," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo told reporters before the team broke for Christmas. "We wanted to be in Atlanta with a chance to play for the [SEC] championship. You do feel good about how some guys responded and answered challenges when it came their way. When there was adversity and we lost two games, we came back and played well to finish the season.

"At the end of the day, the number-one goal is to win the East and try to win the SEC championship. When you don't do that, there is a little bit of a letdown, but we still have another game."

Georgia roared out of the gate this season, scoring 35 or more points against Clemson, South Carolina, North Texas and LSU and averaging 554 yards in those games. Murray engineered a drive late in regulation to help get the Bulldogs past the Volunteers as Georgia totaled 434 yards, and the Bulldogs produced 454 in their loss to Missouri.

The Bulldogs had their lowest output of 221 yards at Vanderbilt and their second lowest, 414, in the 23-20 win over Florida. In their final four games, when Gurley was on the mend but the quarterback starter went from Murray to backup Hutson Mason, the Bulldogs scored at least 38 points and averaged nearly 535 yards.

Bobo believes this season's production despite the injuries is due to a consistency among the staff and players.

"We had a fifth-year senior quarterback," Bobo said. "If you go back to 2011, we played pretty well in spots. A large part of that team is still playing right now."

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

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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