The Georgia Bulldogs spent much of their 2013 football season watching offensive player after offensive player leave the field with injuries.
They will spend the first several months of 2014 awaiting most of their returns.
"I hope all those guys can get healthy to where we're all back on the field again," tailback Todd Gurley said minutes after the Bulldogs dropped a 24-19 decision to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.
Georgia began the season ranked No. 5 in the country, but injuries to key offensive personnel along with a youthful defense and erratic special teams resulted in the Bulldogs winding up 8-5 and unranked for the third time in five years. The Bulldogs played half of the eight teams in the final Associated Press poll, defeating No. 4 South Carolina but losing to No. 2 Auburn, No. 5 Missouri and No. 8 Clemson.
Quarterback Aaron Murray was a fifth-year senior when he tore his ACL and was replaced by Hutson Mason in the 11th game against Kentucky, but Georgia hopes to have tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley back from ACL tears. Tight end Jay Rome, who underwent foot surgery last month, should assume a starting role, while Gurley (ankle) and receivers Chris Conley (ankle) and Michael Bennett (meniscus) expect a new year to result in better health as well.
The 2013 season proved taxing for Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who left several games without key pieces he had at kickoff, but he sees an upside to it.
"A big positive is that we had a lot of guys play this year who you didn't think might play," Bobo said after the bowl. "These guys got experience that was valuable. It sucks that we lost five times, but for these guys to get in there and play and know that they can perform is going to help us with our depth."
A quartet of first-year players, tailbacks J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas and receivers Reggie Davis and Jonathan Rumph, played significant minutes down the stretch as the injuries plagued veteran players. The offensive line stayed healthy during the regular season, but starting guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette went down during the bowl.
Brian Kublanow and Watts Dantzler became the starting guards in what could be the tandem moving forward since Lee and Burnette were seniors. The Bulldogs also are losing left tackle Kenarious Gates but have John Theus, Kolton Houston and Mark Beard back to vie for the two starting tackle spots.
"We're going to, as always, have to figure out who the best five are," Bobo said, "but I think we have a chance to be a little more physical up front. Having David Andrews back will be a big plus. I think he played great all year."
Georgia set a school record for a second consecutive season in yards per game (484.2), but Bobo said before the bowl that the bottom line was coming up short in its attempt to win a third straight SEC East title.
The loss to the Cornhuskers only magnified that bottom line and the team's desire to put 2013 in the past.
"These kids got a confidence and belief out of playing, but it will come down to the little things," Bobo said. "Catching a punt. Looking a catch in. Doing things we rep all the time have to become habit. We've got to sign some guys who are difference makers and get the guys who are injured back in the fold."
Said Gurley: "I just want to go out there and win the first game. That's all I'm worried about."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.