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Missouri could be another nail-biter for Bulldog

Georgia wide receiver Rantavious Wooten (17) points to the fans as he scores a touchdown against Tennessee defensive back Jaron Toney (35) last Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. (Jim Brown/USA Today Sports)

Georgia wide receiver Rantavious Wooten (17) points to the fans as he scores a touchdown against Tennessee defensive back Jaron Toney (35) last Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. (Jim Brown/USA Today Sports)

For a change, Georgia coach Mark Richt wouldn’t mind avoiding another close finish.

But Richt expects another tight contest today when No. 6 Georgia hosts unbeaten No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC) between the hedges. Richt is concerned about a Missouri team that rolled up 523 yards of offense in its 51-28 win over Vanderbilt.

“Missouri is a very, very hot team,” Richt said. “They just moved into the top-25 for good reason. They are 5-0 and 1-0 in league play and very dominating against Vanderbilt last week. It was kind of scary actually to watch the tape of it. They were so proficient on offense.”

Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC) survived another nail-biter, beating Tennessee 34-31 in overtime. It was the second straight week that Georgia needed some late-game heroics from senior quarterback Aaron Murray. Two weeks ago, Murray lofted a game-winning pass to WR Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:27 left to lift Georgia to a 44-41 win over LSU.

Last Saturday, Murray connected with WR Rantavious Wooten on a game-tying TD pass with five seconds left to force overtime against the Vols.

“We’ve had the most drama in a two-week period that we’ve probably had in a long time when it comes to games that were just tightly contested and hard fought,” Richt said. “To come out on top has been very gratifying.”

Said Murray: “It can get stressful at times but these are fun games to play in and it’s fun for the fans. I think it really has made some guys on this team grow up a lot and understand that this is the SEC. Every week there’s going to be tough games.”

But the win against the Vols came at a price. Georgia lost WR Justin Scott-Welsey (torn ACL) and RB Keith Marshall (torn ACL) to season-ending injuries.

The Bulldogs will spend the week developing new players to fill holes left by the injuries and improve a defense that ranks last in the Southeastern Conference in point allowed (32.2 ppg).

“We’re obviously a work in progress,” Richt said. “We’re battling, we’re fighting and we’re winning as a team right now.

Notes

— Georgia G Chris Burnette was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. He graded out at 82 percent with six “dominator” blocks and four knockdowns. In addition, Georgia PK Marshall Morgan earned SEC special teams player of the week for the second straight week after hitting a 56-yard FG and game-winning 42-yard FG against Tennessee.

— Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said the Bulldogs will continue to work on short-yardage situations on defense after allowing Tennessee to convert all three fourth-down attempts last week. Opponents are converting 60 percent on fourth downs against Georgia, which ranks 82nd nationally and ninth in the SEC. “Because our offense is so explosive ? I think we’re going to see a lot of fourth downs because people feel like they’ve got to keep the ball,” Grantham said.

Players to watch

—QB Aaron Murray kept Georgia’s dreams of a national title alive with a dramatic game-tying TD drive in Georgia’s 34-31 win over Tennessee. Georgia coach Mark Richt said that Murray’s leadership has been “tremendous” this season. Murray threw for 196 yards and 3 TDs against the Vols and added 60 yards rushing. Murray also passed former Georgia QB David Greene for the most passing yards in SEC history. A four-year starter, Murray has passed for 11,625 yards in his career.

—RB J.J. Green made the most of his opportunity Saturday against Tennessee. After RB Keith Marshall went down in the first quarter with a torn ACL, Green rushed for 129 yards on 17 carries during the Bulldogs’ 34-31 overtime win. With starting RB Todd Gurley doubtful, the 5-9, 183-pound true freshman Green will be pressed into more carries against Missouri.

—WR Rantavious Wooten will be called on to step up to help fill the void for Georgia’s injury-depleted receiving corps. Wooten caught two TD passes for the Bulldogs against Tennessee, including the game-tying 2-yard TD pass from Aaron Murray with 5 seconds remaining.

—DE Ray Drew is finally starting to live up to his five-star recruiting billings coming out of high school. The 6-foot-5, 276-pound junior had five tackles and two sacks against Tennessee. For the season, Drew has four tackles and three sacks.

SERIES HISTORY: Georgia leads Missouri 2-0 (Last meeting, 2012, Georgia 41-20)

QUOTE TO NOTE: “In life, adversity happens. You can panic or you can look at what you have and find a way to win.” — Georgia coach Mark Richt, on his team’s high number of injuries heading into Saturday’s game against Missouri.

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the running game: True freshman RB J.J. Green emerged as a pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs against the Vols. With RB Keith Marshall out and RB Todd Gurley doubtful, the Bulldogs will turn to Green again Saturday against Missouri. FB Quayvon Hicks and RB Brendan Douglas could also see more carries. Overall, Georgia is still getting strong push up front, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Scouting the passing game: Georgia QB Aaron Murray has managed to adapt to the loss of several WRs to injuries during the course of the season. WR Chris Conley has managed to survive the whole season and has quietly put together a strong season at slot WR with a team-high 318 yards receiving and 3 TDs. Look for Georgia to also try to get its TEs and RBs more involved in the passing game to compensate for its depleting receiving corps. TE Arthur Lynch has 11 catches for 169 yards and 2 TDs this season.

Scouting the run defense: Georgia ranks sixth in the nation in run defense, allowing 139.2 yards per game. LBs Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson have been sound tackles inside for the Bulldogs this season. Georgia is giving up 3.8 yards per carry and has allowed eight rushing TDs this season.

Scouting the pass defense: Richt admitted that returning starting CB Damian Swann has not provided the leadership in the secondary that he envisioned before the season. “He’s struggling right now,” Richt said. Georgia was able to help its secondary out with a better pass rush against Tennessee. The Bulldogs had three sacks and nine QB hurries. The Bulldogs front seven, though, will need to stay disciplined against dual-threat Missouri QB James Franklin.

Scouting the special teams: It was an up-and-down day for Georgia’s special teams against Tennessee. PK Marshall Morgan had a 56-yard FG and a 42-yard FG that won the game in overtime against the Vols. But P Collin Barber had a punt blocked that the Vols returned 15 yards for a TD. Barber suffered a concussion on the blocked punt and had to be replaced by walk-on Adam Erickson, who punted for 44 yards in his lone attempt. Erickson could be pressed into duty this week against Missouri if Barber doesn’t recover in time.

ROSTER REPORT:

—RB Todd Gurley (ankle sprain) is doubtful for Saturday’s game against Missouri.

—RB Keith Marshall suffered a season-ending torn ACL on his right knee against Tennessee

—WR Justin Scott-Wesley suffered a season-ending torn ACL against Tennessee.

—WR Michael Bennett underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his knee and could be back in a few weeks.

— P Collin Barber is questionable for the Missouri game with a concussion.

—S Tray Matthews is doubtful for the Missouri game with a hamstring injury.

—S Connor Norman is day-to-day with a concussion.

—FB Quayvon Hicks is questionable with a knee and ankle sprain.

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