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Georgia's punchless passing game experienced its roughest stretch of the season during the second half of Saturday's 35-32 escape of Tennessee.

After opening the third quarter with a 13-yard completion to Chris Conley, senior quarterback Hutson Mason was 3-of-7 passing the rest of the half for just 12 yards and an interception. Mason also threw a first-half interception after being turnover-free the first three games, and the Bulldogs went all afternoon against the Volunteers without an aerial gain of 20 yards.

"I don't know if it's a concern," senior receiver Michael Bennett said Saturday after leading the Bulldogs with a modest four receptions for 31 yards. "We tried throwing the ball deep, but we didn't execute. We were taking shots."

Mason has been plenty accurate so far this season, with his 69 percent completion rate trailing only Alabama's Blake Sims and Ole Miss's Bo Wallace within the Southeastern Conference. When it comes to yards per attempt, however, Mason isn't in the same neighborhood.

Sims is averaging 11.2 yards per attempt, with Mississippi State's Dake Prescott (10.0), Texas A&M's Kenny Hill (9.7) and Wallace (9.7) next in line within the league, but Mason's average of 6.7 ranks 11th.

"We've got to place the ball better, and we've got to get off the jam better," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "We know that whether a guy runs a good route or a bad route, there is always a place you can throw the ball that gives our guy a better chance than their guy. The reality is that we need to get a little separation out there, too.

"We need to get some guys who give you something a little more exciting to throw to than just a back-shoulder throw. We're definitely not clicking."

Richt said Sunday that he does not sense that Mason is suffering from a lack of confidence, adding that the expected arrivals this week of receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley should enhance the situation. That deep-threat duo has yet to play this season.

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Georgia running back Todd Gurley (3) looks for running room in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 35-32.

Mason averaged 309.5 passing yards in his two starts late last season against Georgia Tech and in the Gator Bowl quagmire against Nebraska. He has yet to throw for 200 yards this year, tallying 131 in the opener against Clemson, a season-high 191 at South Carolina and 147 against the Vols.

Tailback Todd Gurley has been the obvious offensive strength so far, averaging 152.3 yards per game, and it's no secret Gurley will continue to be the go-to guy.

"The blueprint of this offense is going to be the run game," Mason said. "This isn't a team that is going to need to come out and throw the ball 30 to 35 times. The important thing is to throw the ball when no one is expecting it. Throwing for 150 to 180 yards a game with a touchdown here or there has given us every opportunity to win these games."

Said Gurley: "Every team is going to load the box. They would be stupid with the running backs and the linemen we have. If they don't, we'll have a field day, but we're going to get the passing game right."

Senior center David Andrews believes he and his fellow offensive linemen have played a part in some of Mason's struggles.

"We got Hutson sacked too many times," Andrews said Saturday. "That flusters any quarterback and makes them uncomfortable."

Several hours after Georgia's win, South Carolina lost a 20-7 fourth-quarter lead and dropped a 21-20 decision to visiting Missouri. It was the second league loss for the Gamecocks, which puts Georgia back in control of its destiny in the SEC East.

"We're now in control if we win the rest of our Southeastern Conference games," Richt said, "but that's true of Missouri, too, and of Florida. The goal is to have control and win."

Though his Gamecocks no longer have an upper hand, Steve Spurrier doesn't believe his team is out of the race.

"If we can start really playing, I think there's a good chance whoever wins the East will have two losses," Spurrier said Sunday. "The year we won it [2010], we were 5-3 in the division, but we beat Florida and Georgia that year. There is a good chance a 6-2 team could win it."

Michel out a while

Bulldogs freshman tailback Sony Michel will not play this week against visiting Vanderbilt and could miss all of October with the left shoulder injury he sustained Saturday. Michel had three carries for 17 yards against the Vols and has 23 rushes for 223 yards (9.7 per carry) this season.

"I can't imagine him playing any time real soon," Richt said Sunday.

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

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