KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Forgive Georgia coach Mark Richt for not feeling overly enthusiastic in the wake of Saturday’s overtime victory over Tennessee that preserved his team’s national title hopes.
“I’m not really in the celebrating mood so much,” Richt said after the Bulldogs rallied for a 34-31 triumph. The coach said he was “just thankful to escape here with a victory considering what happened.”
Georgia fell from No. 6 to No. 7 in the Top 25 released Sunday after the escape at Tennessee. The Bulldogs’ bigger concern is a flurry of injuries that decimated their depth chart against Tennessee and continued a season-long trend.
Georgia running back Keith Marshall injured his right knee on a hit from Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton while reaching for an incomplete pass. Marshall was on crutches after the game.
Wide receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley also injured their right knees later in the game. A concussion knocked out punter Collin Barber. Georgia already was playing the game without injured running back Todd Gurley and safeties Tray Matthews and Connor Norman.
Richt said he couldn’t remember one of his teams ever having so many injuries in one game.
“It’s just such a shame,” Richt said. “Guys work so hard, and we really went through camp overall pretty good and really had one of our best camps as far as injuries are concerned. Now I just don’t know what the carnage is right now.”
So much for the notion that Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC) would have an easier road now that it had made it through a brutal September schedule with its championship hopes intact.
Georgia already had faced No. 3 Clemson, No. 14 South Carolina and No. 10 LSU in its first four games. All three of those teams were ranked in the top 10 when they faced Georgia. Saturday’s game with Tennessee was supposed to begin the easier part of the Bulldogs’ schedule.
But the Bulldogs instead have plenty of questions as they get ready for an intriguing matchup Saturday with No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0), which is coming off an impressive 51-28 victory at Vanderbilt.
Georgia likely will have to play better than it did against Tennessee. The Bulldogs forced overtime against the Volunteers only after Aaron Murray threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Rantavious Wooten with five seconds left in regulation.
“We have a lot of work to do before we play Missouri because that’s another team that will sneak up on you in a heartbeat,” Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said.
Richt didn’t have updates on the conditions of players injured against Tennessee immediately after the game. Richt did say Gurley had a 50-50 chance of playing against Missouri after missing the Tennessee game with a sprained left ankle.
Gurley and Marshall had formed one of the nation’s top running back tandems before both were hurt. Gurley has 71 carries for 450 yards and four touchdowns. Marshall has rushed for 246 yards and one touchdown on 56 attempts. They combined to rush for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.
Freshman J.J. Green stepped up in their absence Saturday and ran for 129 yards on 17 carries. Green had entered the game with only five career rushing attempts.
“When we signed him, we really didn’t know what he was going to play,” Richt said. “We thought he could play corner, we thought he could play receiver. This spring we knew we had some issues at the tailback position so we just asked him what do you think about playing some tailback and he said, ‘OK, Coach, I’ll play.’ Turns out he’s a tough nut.”
They may need Green to deliver a repeat performance against Missouri.