Georgia head coach Mark Richt watches his team play against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday. (Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)
Back-to-back losses against Missouri and Vanderbilt have derailed a once promising Georgia football season.
The Bulldogs will try to regroup during the bye week before their showdown Nov. 2 against rival Florida in Jacksonville.
It will take a number of factors for Georgia (4-3, 3-2 SEC) to get back into the SEC East race, but Georgia coach Mark Richt remains hopeful the Bulldogs could still wind up in Atlanta for the SEC title for the third straight season.
“Our coaching staff is going to be working hard and believing and knowing there’s still a lot to play for,” Richt said. “Playing Florida is enough to get anybody motivated to play. But when you look at the league, everybody’s got two losses but Missouri. So it’s not impossible. Missouri has five more conference games. So mathematically it’s not over.”
Georgia failed to hold a 13-point fourth quarter lead in a disappointing 31-27 loss at Vanderbilt. Turnovers and special team mistakes contributed to the loss. But moving forward, Georgia also needs its young defense to show progress if it hopes to turn the season around.
“It’s a good open week for us,” Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray said. “We’ve got to get healthy and got to get guys working a little harder this week, next week and then get ready to finish off strong.”
Georgia is hopeful that running back Todd Gurley (sprained ankle) and wide receiver Michael Bennett (knee surgery) will return after the bye for the Florida game. The potential return of the two key offensive players could help Georgia overcome some of its defensive deficiencies.
“We really wanted to win this game before the bye week,” Georgia freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins said. “But now we can to go back to the drawing boards, go back to practicing the way we have been practicing and just continue and focus on the next game.”
• Georgia coach Mark Richt said he thought targeting calls against DE Ray Drew and LB Ramik Wilson against Vanderbilt were incorrect. Drew was ejected from the game following a hit against Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn-Carta Samuels. Wilson’s potential ejection was overturned on replay, but Georgia was still hit with a 15-yard penalty. “I don’t think the rule was designed for that type of a play, quite frankly,” Richt said. “You write-up rules and try to define them and everybody’s trying to figure out how to call it. So it got called. But it didn’t look like Ray was trying to blast the guy in any way, shape or form. He was trying to pull up and certainly wasn’t trying to drive through the guy or hit him violently in any way, shape or form.
• RB Brendan Douglas had a career-high 84 yards rushing on 17 carries against Vanderbilt, but also lost a crucial fourth quarter fumble.
• Georgia will be looking to get some of its offensive playmakers healthy before a big showdown Nov. 2 in Jacksonville against rival Florida. If RB Todd Gurley can return from a sprained ankle, it would provide balance to the offense and take some pressure off Georgia senior QB Aaron Murray. Defensively, Georgia needs to continue to improve a unit that ranks 13th out of 14 SEC team in scoring defense (33.3 points allowed per game).
• QB Aaron Murray passed former Florida QB Tim Tebow for the SEC record for total offense. Murray has amassed 12,347 total yards after passing for 114 yards and rushing for 10 yards and 2 TDs. For the season, Murray has done the best he could with the mounting number of playmakers no longer available to him due to injuries. Murray is averaging 276.9 yards per game with 17 TDs and 6 interceptions.
• WR Chris Conley has been forced to step into the role of number one receiver due to the season-ending injuries to WR Malcolm Mitchell and WR Justin Scott-Wesley. Conley has responded with 30 catches for 418 yards and 4 TDs this season.
• PK Marshall Morgan has been one of the few bright spots on special teams for Georgia this season. Morgan made both of his field goal attempts against Vanderbilt to improve to 10-for-12 for the season. Morgan is 3 of 4 for the season on field goal attempts of 40 yards or more.
• CB Shaq Wiggins scored his first career touchdown against Vanderbilt, returning an interception 39 yards for a TD. Wiggins also had a pass breakup against the Commodores and is gaining the trust of the Florida coaching staff in coverage.
• LB Jordan Jenkins finally came through with a big game against Vanderbilt. After struggling to get to the quarterback for most of the season, Jenkins had two sacks and three tackles for loss against the Commodores. For the season, Jenkins has three sacks, eight tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries.