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Georgia football chases rebound vs. Vanderbilt

Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Rantavious Wooten (17) catches a touchdown behind Missouri Tigers defensive back Randy Ponder (7) during the second half at Sanford Stadium last Saturday.

Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Rantavious Wooten (17) catches a touchdown behind Missouri Tigers defensive back Randy Ponder (7) during the second half at Sanford Stadium last Saturday.

After a tough 41-26 home loss to Missouri, injury-depleted Georgia will try regroup to for its showdown with Vanderbilt.

“We are going to Vanderbilt coming off a loss and one that stung,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “But we know in our league you have to shake it off and get ready to go again, because no one is going to feel sorry for you.”

Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) had its 15-game winning streak at Sanford Stadium snapped and now finds itself trailing Missouri in the SEC East race. That leaves the Bulldogs with little margin for error if they want to return to the SEC title game for the third straight season.

“Right now that goal is still attainable,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “We feel like if we take care of business and we win the rest of our games, Missouri has a very tough schedule left, then who knows what happens. They might win all their games, or they might lose a couple and give us a shot. We just have to take care of business and we can’t lose anymore. Hopefully, we will be back in Atlanta.”

To do that, Georgia must improve a defense that still ranks last in the SEC in points allowed. The Bulldogs have given up 33.7 points per game.

Georgia’s much-maligned secondary will face another challenge against a Vanderbilt pass offense than ranks fourth in the SEC at 272 yards per game. Vanderbilt senior receiver Jordan Matthews leads the SEC in receiving with 709 yards and has scored 5 TDs this season.

“We obviously all know about Jordan Matthews who is a great receiver, but they also have a couple of other guys on the perimeter who are good receivers, and backs that can come out of the backfield too,” Georgia safety Connor Norman said. “Really, it’s going to be all about our assignments and executing what’s called.”

Notes, quotes

• Georgia coach Mark Richt said he’s not wallowing in Georgia’s recent injury woes. The Bulldogs have lost two of their top receivers (Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell) and their second-leading rusher (Keith Marshall) to season-ending injuries. “You can’t control injuries, and I don’t really try to assess it other than who’s left and what they can do and what gives us our best chance of winning,” Richt said. “That’s what I try to focus on from a pure football and strategy point-of-view. The personal part of it is that you feel for your players. As they’re rehabbing, you want them to still feel a part of the team and not feel like just because they’re not producing that they’re not as important as they used to be. They really are to us, but sometimes it’s hard for that guy to feel that way because he’s not producing. It’s a production business.”

• Georgia ranks last in the SEC in turnover margin (minus-4). A big reason? Georgia’s much-maligned defense has forced just five turnovers in six games this season. “I don’t know if there is a special formula to creating turnovers, but we need more turnovers obviously,” Georgia safety Connor Norman said. “I think it’s just, obviously, executing. Then it’s also guys that are second in on the tackle and just being aware of the situation. Turnovers are huge and we need them. They’re game-changers so that’s definitely something that’s in the back of our minds.”

Players to watch

• QB Aaron Murray had an up-and-down performance during Georgia’s 41-26 loss to Missouri. Murray passed for 290 yards with 3 TDs but also had two crucial interceptions in the loss. Perhaps the mounting injuries of playmakers around him finally caught up to Murray, who had to spend the week before in practice trying to get timing down with a new cast of running backs and receivers.

• WR Chris Conley had five catches for 60 yards and a TD against Missouri. The junior has been one of Georgia’s few receivers to make it through the full season healthy. For the season, Conley has a team-high 378 yards receiving with 4 TDs.

• TE Arthur Lynch was named to the Mackey Award’s midseason watch last, an award given to college football’s top TE. Lynch has emerged as a consistent target for Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray. For the season, Lynch has 13 catches for 205 yards and 2 TDs.

• DE Ray Drew had two more sacks against Missouri and is becoming more disruptive for the Bulldogs up front. In addition to the sacks, Drew had seven tackles and two quarterback hurries. For the season, Drew has a team-high 5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. “He’s a guy that’s not only a situational guy — he’s an every-down guy,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He’s played well.”

Quote to note

“Everyone is frustrated. Everyone takes pride in what they do, but we have to keep believing in each other. We have to keep banging away.” — Georgia coach Mark Richt, on the performance of Georgia’s defense this season.