ATHENS -- Georgia has reached the midpoint of its regular season, and it feels like it has packed in enough action for an entire season. To some, it might already seem over, what with the national title goal now all but out of reach.
Head coach Mark Richt won’t say that, of course, but he did grant Sunday night that his team might need an energy infusion heading into Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt.
“We’ll be trying to figure out something to get them going, because it’s been a pretty long haul here in between open dates, and there’s been a lot of bumps and bruises along the way,” Richt said.
A two-loss team has not won a national title since LSU in 2007, and Georgia, with its injury-riddled offense and struggling defense, doesn’t seem a likely candidate to repeat that. After falling to Missouri on Saturday, the Bulldogs fell in the rankings to No. 15 in the AP, and they are one spot lower in the coaches and Harris polls.
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So the main goal now turns to something that is very much realistic -- winning a third straight SEC East title. Missouri is the only unbeaten team in the division but has six conference games left (Georgia has just four), and Missouri quarterback James Franklin might not be able to return this season after suffering a shoulder injury Saturday.
South Carolina, Florida and Missouri all still have to play each other. Georgia, meanwhile, has Florida on Nov. 2, while its other three games are against unranked foes.
Richt said he wasn’t going to talk about the SEC race much with his players, saying the best thing they can do is prepare for Vanderbilt.
“We’ve just gotta try and take care of that business. And then the open date, we can probably see how the dust is settling then, prior to the Florida game,” Richt said.
The status of tailback Todd Gurley now looms large. The star sophomore has missed two straight games with a sprained ankle, and Richt did not categorize Gurley’s status for the Vanderbilt game, other than saying, “He’s close. Real close.”
Still, the indication is the team will approach Gurley very cautiously, with a bye week after the Vanderbilt game, followed by a pivotal matchup with Florida.
“I think what we want is a really healthy Todd Gurley. We want him to be at his best. We don’t want him going in there without being full-speed, because if you do it’s not safe for him, and it could also cause him another setback that could sit him down for even longer,” Richt said. “Whenever he looks healthy enough and feels healthy enough, then we’ll play him.”
It’s not certain if Gurley or freshman safety Tray Matthews will practice Monday. Receiver Jonathan Rumph is going to return to practice Monday, putting the junior college transfer on track to finally see the field.
Meanwhile, Richt did not say much definitive about changes to his defense, which is now tied for 65th nationally (out of 123 teams) in total yards allowed at 399 per game. The young unit has been plagued by big plays against the secondary, with the Bulldogs allowing opponents to convert 43.7 percent of the time on third down. That ranks tied for 97th nationally.
“You’ve just got to be careful not to change too much because (then) you have no continuity,” Richt said. “If you’ve got a guy who’s going through some growing pains, and then you decide to make a change with another new guy, then he’s gotta go through his growing pains, as well. And before you know it, you’ve got no continuity at all. So we’re not in any kind of position where we think we need to make a bunch of wholesale changes right now.”
A big problem has been a lack of turnovers. Georgia committed four in the loss to Missouri, while not forcing any. The Bulldogs only have forced five turnovers all year, which is the third lowest number in the nation, more than only Troy and Temple.
Richt brought up the lack of turnovers without being asked, sounding frustrated. He pointed out that Georgia has lost the turnover margin in each of its two losses, which were both close enough games in which a few turnovers forced could have made the difference.
“We’re getting a good many sacks, but usually when you get sacks, you get the ball out every once in awhile from that quarterback,” Richt said. “I think the guys are just trying to get the sack and not think, ‘While I’m back there why don’t I strip the ball, too.’ ”
Then Richt mentioned how in past years safety Bacarri Rambo was adept at stripping the ball from a pile. The hope is that the younger players will get more comfortable and thus feel more free to try to force turnovers.
“We work drills until we’re blue in the face. But you’ve gotta kind of do it in the heat of the battle,” Richt said.