Georgia’s inability to overcome a bevy of injuries likely ended its hopes for a BCS title, but it still remains in contention for the SEC crown.
While hoping to see leading rusher Todd Gurley back on the field, the 15th-ranked Bulldogs will try to avoid a damaging loss in the conference race Saturday at Vanderbilt.
Georgia (4-2, 3-1) was missing its top two rushers and three of its top receivers during last week’s visit from then-No. 25 Missouri, and it couldn’t keep up with the Tigers in a 41-26 loss that snapped a 15-game home win streak. Aaron Murray threw for three touchdowns but also had a pair of late interceptions and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Georgia dropped one game behind Missouri in the SEC East, but the Tigers won’t have starting quarterback James Franklin available for matchups with two more ranked teams, Florida and South Carolina, in the next two weeks. That might help the Bulldogs’ chances of advancing to a third consecutive conference championship game, and they realize they have to move on quickly to accomplish that goal.
“We know we have to put it behind us,” defensive end Leonard Floyd said. “We don’t have any time to dwell on Missouri. We have to put all our attention on Vanderbilt now. They have a good team and we will have to be ready.”
Georgia could use a strong performance against the Commodores (3-3, 0-3) to provide a boost of confidence before a matchup with No. 22 Florida on Nov. 2 in Jacksonville. The Bulldogs are hoping Gurley can help keep them in contention for their first SEC title since 2005.
The sophomore, who has 450 yards in four games, has missed the past two contests due to a sprained left ankle. Coach Mark Richt said this week Gurley is “real close” to returning but won’t play him until he’s fully healed.
J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas could help should Gurley need another week to rest. They combined for 157 yards on 26 carries last Saturday.
“I think what we want is a really healthy Todd Gurley,” Richt said. “We want him to be at his best. We don’t want him to go in there without being full speed because if you do it’s not really safe for him. It also can cause another setback that might set him down even longer.
“Whenever he looks healthy enough and feels healthy enough, we’ll play him.”
Gurley ran for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 16 attempts in a 48-3 rout of visiting Vanderbilt on Sept. 22, 2012. Murray also connected for a pair of scores as Georgia won its sixth in a row in the series and earned its 17th win in 18 matchups.
Murray enters this game 30 yards shy of topping Tim Tebow’s SEC record of 12,232 total yards and needs three touchdown passes to surpass Danny Wuerffel’s conference mark of 114.
The Bulldogs have won 10 straight at Vanderbilt Stadium and are 24-7-1 there all-time, but they could use a better defensive performance to earn another win. Georgia is barely outpacing its opponents this season (225-202) and has allowed an average of 37.7 points in its last three games.
Vanderbilt has been outscored 125-88 in its three conference games and didn’t provide too much of a challenge to Missouri in its latest one, a 51-28 defeat Oct. 5.
“You don’t want to reinvent the wheel over the bye week and you just want to tweak some things that are simple adjustments for you, but give a different appearance to the defense, and that’s all we are trying to do,” coach James Franklin said.
Austyn Carta-Samuels passed for a career-high 338 yards and two TDs and rushed for another in that home loss. Senior receiver Jordan Matthews topped 100 yards for the fifth time this season and needs another 103 to break the SEC career receiving record of 3,093 held by Georgia’s Terrence Edwards.
Matthews had eight catches for 119 yards last season against the Bulldogs but made only two receptions for 46 yards in the most recent visit from Georgia, a 33-28 loss Oct. 15, 2011.
Vanderbilt cut an early 16-point deficit to five late in the third quarter in that game before Murray provided enough cushion with a 75-yard touchdown pass with 13:57 remaining.