ATHENS -- December is time for college football head coaches to decompress and take stock of the season. And so it was that Georgia’s Mark Richt was a watching television copy of his team’s October loss to Missouri.
A pregame info graphic made an impression on Richt.
“I saw the graphic: (Todd) Gurley out. Keith Marshall out. (Michael) Bennett out. Justin Scott-Wesley out. Malcolm Mitchell out,” Richt said. “And that was just offense. Those were just the headliners.”
There’s a reason Georgia, which entered the season with national title aspirations, has instead been preparing this month for the Gator Bowl. Oh, the struggling defense is a major factor. So were the often-inept special teams.
But those around the team continue to believe that injuries were the overhanging reason, even though the offense still managed to be the strength of the team. The play of the season, as it turned out, might have been Gurley’s 75-yard touchdown run the second series at Clemson.
Gurley strained his quad during the run. Mitchell, celebrating with Gurley, tore his ACL.
Georgia had six players undergo ACL surgeries this year, including its top receiver (Mitchell), another starting receiver (Scott-Wesley), one of its top tailbacks (Marshall) and near the end of the season its star quarterback (Aaron Murray).
But tight end Arthur Lynch -- who missed one game when he lacerated his kidney -- thinks the biggest injury was Gurley. The star tailback missed a big chunk of the loss to Clemson, then sprained his ankle and missed the losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt.
“If Todd is 100 percent for 12 games, then I don’t think we lose a game,” Lynch said. “That’s my honest opinion. I think he’s that special a player.”
Gurley did go the whole way in the loss at Auburn but wasn’t quite at full strength with the ankle problems. In any event, Georgia didn’t have Mitchell, Scott-Wesley or Marshall for that game. It also didn’t have Bennett, perhaps its second-best receiver, for the Missouri and Vanderbilt losses.
Those two games, directly after the Tennessee game -- when Marshall, Scott-Wesley and Bennett went down -- resulted in two of Georgia’s worst offensive games of the season.
“There was definitely a lull there, those Missouri and Vanderbilt games,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, giving credit to those two teams, then expounding on the effect the injuries had on the offense and playcalling. “There was an adjustment period there that we had to go through. The Missouri game, we pretty much stayed aggressive, but we turned the ball over (because of) some timing issues. (We) tried to slow it a bit down in the Vanderbilt game and didn’t have the results that way either and had to go back to the drawing board.
“And the guys responded and answered and came back and played well the rest of the year.”
But by then it was too late to save the high hopes for the season.
Lynch was in Atlanta the Friday of the SEC championship game, making contacts for a job and had totally forgotten the game was the next day.
“There were so many Auburn fans who recognized me, giving me F-yous and the bird and saying all this stuff. And I was like, ‘Get me out of here.’ So that was an unpleasant reminder,” Lynch said. “We were almost there. But it happens, man.”
The latter sentiment seemed the consensus around the team. That’s why there haven’t been recriminations for a disappointing season, why there haven’t been players-only meetings and why Bobo was even named the nation’s top offensive coordinator this season, by 247Sports.com. There is a sense on the team that the main reason for its struggles was out of its control. After all, it did beat South Carolina and LSU before the major run of injuries hit.
“We fought hard every game,” Lynch said. “There wasn’t one game where we couldn’t leave the field feeling proud for the way we fought and the way we played. There’s some honor in that. There’s some positive things to look upon in the future.”
And the man who -- according to Lynch -- suffered the most key injury, had another way of summing it up best.
“It’s time to get over that and move on,” Gurley said. “Stuff happened. It is what it is and keep playing. Ain’t nobody gonna feel sorry for us; ain’t nobody gonna look back 10 years from now and be like, ‘Oh yeah, the 2013 Georgia football team had like 40 injuries.’ You’ve just gotta keep winning and going out there playing your hardest.”