Malcolm Mitchell's hopes of staying healthy for an entire football season with the Georgia Bulldogs didn't even make it to the midway mark of the first quarter.
The junior receiver and top deep threat of quarterback Aaron Murray suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament less than six minutes into Saturday night's 38-35 loss at Clemson. Mitchell landed awkwardly on his knee while celebrating Todd Gurley's 75-yard run that tied the game 7-7.
"We've got other guys who have gone deep and made plays for us, but Malcolm was certainly one guy who could do that," Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday afternoon. "He had great speed and quickness, and he could snatch the ball in traffic. He was a great competitor."
Mitchell, who sat out last year's opener with an ankle injury and missed three games as a freshman due to a pulled hamstring, has 85 career receptions for 1,237 yards and eight touchdowns, which are the highest totals on the team. Richt said Georgia will apply for a medical redshirt so the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder from Valdosta would still have two years of eligibility remaining.
An MRI taken Sunday confirmed the tear, Richt said, and surgery will be scheduled in the near future.
Mitchell's injury was the worst of many bad breaks the Bulldogs sustained in Death Valley. The Bulldogs racked up 545 yards but committed nine penalties for 84 yards and suffered two turnovers to Clemson's one.
Georgia's biggest gaffe occurred late in the third quarter, when the Bulldogs were trailing 31-28 and couldn't capitalize on first-and-goal from Clemson's 5-yard line. On fourth down from the 2, a high snap by Nathan Theus could not be corralled by holder Adam Erickson, botching a chip shot field goal that would have tied the game.
"We definitely made some mistakes, and some that hurt pretty bad, but that's football," Richt said. "You've got to get ready to move on to the next game. I guarantee you South Carolina is not going to be feeling sorry for us."
Truer words have not been spoken this season, as South Carolina will be gunning for a fourth consecutive win in the series. No team has defeated Georgia four straight times in Richt's 13 seasons, with Florida winning three in a row from 2001 to '03 and again from 2008 to '10.
Spurrier, who was Florida's coach in '01, was asked his impressions of Georgia's defense at Clemson and shifted the subject.
"Obviously it was a high-scoring game that possibly could have gone either way," Spurrier said. "They're a good offensive team, and Gurley is obviously one of the best in the country. Their quarterback and receivers are also very good, and they've got all the statistics to prove that. It will be a big test, as we knew it would be."
The Gamecocks are hoping to have an advantage as far as health and rest, considering they opened last Thursday with a 27-10 win over visiting North Carolina. The game was halted for two hours by lightning, but it may be remembered even more for standout Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney collecting just three tackles.
"Obviously Jadeveon was not up to par, but I'm not going to give him any excuses," Spurrier said. "Give that North Carolina offensive tackle pretty good credit, because he did a good job blocking. Their quarterback was pretty nifty, and he dodged people and moved around.
"I think Jadeveon learned that the camera is on him every play, and I'm hoping we won us a ball game where we weren't extremely sharp in a lot of areas."
Odds and ends
Richt does not believe Gurley's pulled quad at Clemson will affect him this week, and he did not have an update for kicker Marshall Morgan, who sat out the opener as the result of a suspension. ... Free safety Tray Matthews, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and cornerback Brendan Langley became the first true freshman defensive starters in a Georgia opener since Kedric Golston (2002). ... The last true freshman to start in the secondary in an opener was Tony Flack in 1982, when Clemson visited Athens. ... Redshirt junior Kolton Houston, who had been ineligible until last month, started at right tackle and was the offense's only first-time starter. ... The Bulldogs are 10-3 in season openers under Richt, with all three losses coming to top-10 teams -- Oklahoma State (2009), Boise State (2011) and Clemson (2013).
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
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 ...