Georgia's tight ends have stayed healthier than the running backs and receivers this season, but that hasn't translated to an increase in production.
Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome were popular targets for quarterback Aaron Murray during Georgia's first four games, combining for 212 receiving yards and two touchdowns. In the past three games against Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt, the two have combined for just 51 yards.
"We were making more plays down the field earlier in the season when we were at full strength," Lynch said this week. "I think it was harder for a defense to hone in on the tight ends when we had so many weapons on the outside and obviously with the running backs we had. Our backs were holding the safeties up in the box and keeping them honest.
"The injuries have kind of restricted us, but we've still been trying to make plays when our number has been called."
Lynch had 15- and 21-yard gains two weeks ago in the 41-26 home loss to Missouri, with his 15-yarder in the second quarter including an impressive hurdle of Tigers cornerback Randy Ponder. That play could not make up for a whiff Lynch had moments earlier on defensive end Shane Ray, who sacked Murray and caused a fumble that Michael Sam returned for a touchdown that put the Tigers up 28-10.
In last week's 31-27 loss at Vanderbilt, Lynch had one catch for 7 yards and Rome had one for 8.
"We really didn't complete that many balls, period," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "I think just overall that Vanderbilt did a great job of stopping the pass from getting away. We really didn't test anything down the field, and on the short and intermediate things, they did a good job of closing space and breaking on the ball and knocking the ball out from time to time."
Lynch and Rome combined on 35 receptions for 583 yards and five touchdowns last season, but Richt said there has not been a concentrated effort recently to get them the ball with tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley unable to play.
"Our passing game is pretty much predicated on a progression of reads," he said. "A lot of times we'll have five guys in our routes, and we may have a progression of one or two or three receivers based on the way a safety would roll, and it may include a tight end or it may not. You don't want to earmark a pass for a player, because you tend to force it.
"The tight ends are part of what we're trying to use at Georgia, and we've been throwing to tight ends for years, but if you try to develop a special plan for them, you end up forcing the ball."
Lynch remembers an opportunity for a big play at Vanderbilt but said Murray went to Chris Conley for a short gain that did produce a first down.
The Bulldogs on Thursday held their second and final practice of this off week. They hope to have Gurley and Bennett back at full strength next week when they prepare for rival Florida and look to get a once-promising season back on track.
"From an emotional standpoint, we were pretty spent after the first four games," Lynch said, "and I think the bye week that we're currently in would have been most needed and necessary for us as a team the week after Tennessee. The way the Tennessee game ended and the shape we were in physically, we really needed a week then, because we knew Missouri was an improved team and that it was going to be tough for us.
"It's not what we expected after seven games, but there is a lot to be proud of thus far and a lot to look forward to."
Odds and ends
Gurley went through Thursday's two-hour practice in a noncontact jersey, which Richt felt was encouraging. "He made it to the end and ran sprints with everybody," Richt said. ... Bennett was able to do some straight-ahead running. ... Center David Andrews sat out with a sprained foot, so Dallas Lee worked at center and Kolton Houston filled in for Lee at left guard. ... Richt said that freshman inside linebacker Reggie Carter injured his knee during Tuesday's practice, but he did not know the severity.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.