ATHENS, Ga. — Give Georgia an “A’’ for the opening month of the season.
The Bulldogs came through their gauntlet against three top-10 teams in fine shape, beating South Carolina and LSU while moving up to No. 6 in The Associated Press rankings on Sunday.
“Right this very minute, our resume looks pretty good,” coach Mark Richt said. “It’s not going to be that pretty if we get whipped in the next week or two. If October is a crummy month, then everybody is going to forget about it.”
After Saturday’s thrilling 44-41 win over LSU, the schedule looks much easier the rest of the way.
No. 18 Florida is the only ranked team in the bunch, and the Gators are hardly in a good place after losing their quarterback to a season-ending injury. The cumulative record of the remaining opponents is 21-12, leaving Georgia in good position to run the table and claim its third straight trip to the Southeastern Conference championship game. The Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0 SEC) are right back in the thick of the national championship race even after opening the season with a 38-35 loss at Clemson.
Richt isn’t ready to start celebrating. He knows Georgia still has plenty of room for improvement, especially on the defensive side, heading into Saturday’s game at Tennessee (3-2, 0-1).
“If we think it’s going to be any easier, we’re crazy,” he said. “They’re going to be fired up. Their fans are going to be ready to go. If we think it’s going to be anything less than what we’ve been living through, we’re nuts. Every game is going to be a barn-burner until we get more stout on defense and continue to get better on special teams.”
Georgia did get some good news on star running back Todd Gurley. He sustained a sprained left ankle against LSU, watching the second half wearing a walking boot. But Richt said the injury is not serious and listed the sophomore as day to day.
Zach Mettenberger threw for a career-best 372 yards, continually burning the Bulldogs for long completions on third down. The Tigers converted 10 of 15 times in those situations, including a third-and-22 that led to Jeremy Hill’s go-ahead TD with just over 4 minutes remaining. Georgia was especially ineffective when they dropped back in a prevent defense; they were much more successful when they got pressure on Mettenberger.
“He’s not going to need any surgery or anything like that,” Richt said. “We’ve just kind of got to let it get as much treatment as we can and get it as healthy as we can.”
It’s too early to tell if Gurley will be able to play against the Volunteers, but he’ll certainly be limited at practice early in the week. That means freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas will get some extra time with the first team along with sophomore Keith Marshall, who’ll get the bulk of the carries if Gurley can’t go.
Green had a huge run in his only carry against LSU, ripping off an 18-yard gain that set up Aaron Murray’s winning touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:47 remaining. Douglas was stuffed on two inside runs near the goal line when the Bulldogs tried to fool the Tigers earlier in the game.
“Those guys have got to get their reps and be ready to play,” Richt said.
The special teams cleaned up some of their issues against LSU. Marshall Morgan kicked three field goals, including a career-best 55-yarder. There were no poor snaps, and the coverage teams did a good job.
The young defense, on the other hand, is still very much a work in progress.
More encouraging: LSU rushed for only 77 yards on 36 carries, though the Tigers were able to get outside with more regularity in the second half.
“We played very well on first and second down,” Richt said. “We stopped the run extremely well, or at least slowed it down. We got ourselves in some really good situations on third down, as far as down and distance. We just didn’t get the stops. They got a lot of their biggest plays on third down. When we get in those situations, we’ve got to get off the field. We didn’t do a good enough job of that.”