ATHENS - Todd Gurley has now missed two full games with a sprained ankle, and the attention turns to whether it will be a third.
Head coach Mark Richt said after Saturday's game that he was "much more hopeful" that both Gurley, his star tailback, and Tray Matthews, the freshman safety, can play next week at Vanderbilt.
Gurley sprained his ankle during the second quarter of the win over LSU two weeks ago. He didn't do much in practice this week, just trying to run on Wednesday before stopping. Richt said he now hoped Gurley could begin to practice early next week.
"This is the first week we can sit here and say Todd has a realistic shot" of playing, Richt said.
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The freshman tandem of J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas have filled in ably for Gurley and Keith Marshall, who tore his ACL in last week's win over Tennessee. Green had 87 rushing yards on 12 carries, including a 57-yard run, along with five catches for 42 yards. Douglas was the team's leading receiver, catching six passes for 43 yards, including a touchdown, while rushing for 70 yards on 14 carries.
"Bobo and I were talking after the game: They're good backs," Richt said. "They run the ball well. They caught the ball well. We're not paralyzed or handcuffed with those guys in there."
For that reason, Georgia may choose to play it cautious one more week with Gurley. After the Vanderbilt game, Georgia has a bye week before playing Florida, which is now setting up to be critical to the division title race.
Georgia has now given up at least 30 points in five of its six games, and while some of those points have come on special teams or offense, it’s obvious the defense is a work in progress, or worse.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham pointed to third downs as the biggest concern. Missouri was 5-for-12, a percentage in line with how Georgia was doing entering the game, ranked worst in the SEC in that category.
“When you look at our team, we’re a young team that does some good things,” Grantham said. “For example, in the second half we played pretty good, OK, until there at the end. I think any time you’ve got young guys, there’s gonna be a lapse or two, or a thing here or there that can extend a drive or create a seam, or allow them to make some plays.”
It’s not a matter of effort, according to Grantham.
“It’s more a matter of execution and getting some experience,” he said. “Because when you play at the level we play at, you’ve gotta be on technique-wise, you’ve gotta be on with your effort, and you’ve gotta be on in your ability to play fast. And if you’re off in any of those areas it’s gonna create seams, which allow for big plays and continued drives.”
Richt was asked how close he felt the defense was to being able to win games like this, and he said it was “getting there.”
“You see some sparks. You see some signs of life,” Richt said, pointing to the play of junior end Ray Drew and freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins. “I believe we’re gonna keep getting better. I really do. I think we’re gonna be the type of defense that everybody’s gonna be proud of. But it takes some time. And we’ve played some pretty good clubs. There’s no doubt about that. This team was no joke offensively.”
For all the attention on new members of the receiving rotation, senior walk-on Michael Erdman and redshirt freshman only made one catch apiece. Redshirt freshman Kenneth Towns, another walk-on, was also targeted once but didn’t make the catch.
Murray is now second overall in SEC history in touchdown responsibility, with 124. He now has 112 career touchdown passes, second all time, two away from Danny Wuerffel’s record.
Drew now has five sacks this season, all in the past three games. He entered the season with just one half-sack.
Freshman outside linebacker Leonard Floyd picked up his fourth sack of the season.
Inside linebacker Reggie Carter started the game but didn’t play that much afterwards. Carter and Green made it seven true freshmen who have started this season for Georgia.