Bye-Week Breakdown: A look at the Bulldogs at the season’s midpoint

It’s halftime for Georgia’s football regular season.

The Bulldogs have a better record at this point than a year ago (5-1 versus 4-2) and are ranked higher in the polls (14th in the Associated Press poll compared to unranked last year).

Nobody, of course, is celebrating that this weekend as Georgia and its fans will have to wait another week to see the Bulldogs get back in the win column after the big disappointment of the showing in the 35-7 loss at South Carolina.

This Georgia team talked unabashedly about getting to Miami for the BCS title game.

Now a more likely Florida bowl destination would seem to be Orlando or Tampa.

There is still more football to be played. Getting to Atlanta for another trip to the Southeastern Conference Championship game is still a goal for Georgia.

“The way the world works especially in the Southeastern Conference, the team with the best record at the end wins the East,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “There’s a lot more football to be played. We’ve got an opporuntity to get back on the winning track. We know that. … everybody’s got a bunch of games to play yet. We just don’t know how it’s going to shake out yet.”

Bulldogs fans can root today for South Carolina to lose at LSU and for Florida to stumble at Vanderbilt before the Gamecocks and Gators square off next week in The Swamp.

This is a weekend not to tailgate outside Sanford Stadium or road trip to see the Bulldogs.

It’s honey-do list time or a weekend trip to the lake or mountains.

The diehards may fire up the DVR and enjoy some of the victories or dissect once again the game last week in Williams-Brice Stadium.

Before we turn the page to Kentucky week, here’s a look at Georgia at the midway point of the season and sneak a peek ahead of what’s to come.

The freshmen
of impact

 

• Todd Gurley. The tailback is on pace to run for 1,150 yards in the regular season. He’s fourth in the conference in rushing, tied with South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore for the lead in rushing touchdowns with nine, returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and leads the conference in all-purpose yards (138.2 avg)

• Keith Marshall. The other heralded recruit from North Carolina is 10th in the SEC in rushing with 465 yards. His 7.3-yards-per-carry average leads all SEC running backs.

• John Theus. Started at right tackle every game this season for an offense that leads the SEC in rushing, is second in scoring and third in total offense.

“It’s been a great ride,” Theus said. “To be able to come in and contribute to start, it’s a great feeling. That was kind of my goal coming in to be able to do it. It’s a great feeling to reach your goal. Now my goal is to get better each week, which I think I’ve done.”

Room for improvement

 

• Secondary play. Georgia has given up eight touchdown passes (only Arkansas and Ole Miss have allowed more in SEC) and too many big plays for its liking.

“It’s just small things we’ve got to improve on,” safety Bacarri Rambo said. “Us leaders have to step up and not allow big plays because that’s what’s really been hurting us — big plays and blowing coverage and miscommunication. … Once we get that corrected, the defense will be back where we want it to be.”

• Offensive line. The group was a feel-good, overachieving story that may have been exposed against South Carolina. Or was that simply the best defensive line the Bulldogs will play this season? Another big test comes
Oct. 27 against Florida.

• Special teams. Punt returns have often been an adventure, prompting a switch to Rhett McGowan. South Carolina returned a 70-yard punt for a touchdown. Georgia’s 90.3 percentage on extra points is the second-worst in the SEC.

Memorable performances

 

• Jarvis Jones vs. Missouri. The outside linebacker had two sacks, nine tackles, an interception and two forced fumbles in a 41-20 win at Missouri. Georgia scored two touchdowns set up by two big plays by Jones.

• Gurley and Marshall vs. Tennessee. The freshmen duo combined to rush for 294 yards on 34 carries with five touchdowns in the 51-44 Georgia victory. Marshall had 164 yards on 10 carries with touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards. Gurley scored three touchdowns on a day he rushed for 130 yards on 24 carries.

• Aaron Murray vs. Vanderbilt. The redshirt junior quarterback completed his first 12 passes in a 48-3 rout of Vanderbilt. He finished 18 of 24 for 250 yards with two touchdowns on the day.

Good riddance

 

• Suspension silliness. The new sport was watching the athletes during Dawg Walk to see if players expected to be suspended actually were, as Georgia kept it under wraps. There was a report prior to the Missouri game that Sanders Commings might play when he was actually at home. Bacarri Rambo tweeted he would be out another week right before he actually returned against Tennessee.

• Nighttime football. Games under the lights can be electric. It certainly was at Williams-Brice Stadium last Saturday. Georgia will have played only two day games heading into the 3:30 p.m. kickoff against Florida. The Nov. 17 Georgia Southern game in November is set for 1:30 p.m.

• Jadeveon Clowney and company. At least for this year. Georgia’s offense had all kind of fits dealing with the towering Gamecocks defensive end, who had four solo tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Georgia was held to 224 yards of total offense and Aaron Murray went 11 of 31 for 109 yards.

Pleasant surprises

 

• Amarlo Herrera. The sophomore leads the team and is 11th in the SEC with 47 tackles and has the Bulldogs’ only defensive score of the season, a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown against Florida Atlantic. He moved from the “Mo” inside linebacker spot to the play-calling “Mike” position.

• Michael Bennett.
The redshirt sophomore
led Georgia with 24 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns through
five games, helping the
Bulldogs’ passing game thrive even with Malcolm Mitchell working primarily at cornerback.

• Explosive offense. They didn’t show it against South Carolina, but the Bulldogs scored 40 or more points in five straight games before that. No Bulldogs team had ever done that before.

Punch in the gut

 

• Bennett’s injury. Losing the receiver for the season to a torn ACL on the last play of a Tuesday practice during South Carolina week was a blow to the offense.

• Kolton Houston still sidelined. The offensive tackle ended the spring in a starting position, but the NCAA has yet to rule him eligible because he has continued to test positive for a banned substance.

• Aaron Murray father’s health. Less than 48 hours after Georgia’s loss at South Carolina, Dennis Murray underwent surgery for thyroid cancer in Tampa. Murray returned home to Florida, but was back at practice a day later.

Defining matchups in latter half of year

• Florida. Georgia’s chances of getting to Atlanta will almost certainly end without a victory against the Gators. The Bulldogs will still need help from the Gators and South Carolina to get there.

• Georgia Tech. The in-state rival is reeling with a 2-4 record. Defensive coordinator Al Groh was fired this week. Nothing would probably make their season more than coming to Athens and winning between the hedges.

. • Ole Miss. The Rebels are 3-3 overall, but if Georgia happens to lose the week before to Florida in Jacksonville, how would the Bulldogs respond back at home against a team that doesn’t stir much emotions for them or their fans?

Memorable quotes

 

• Vanderbilt coach James Franklin on if he saw Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in the offseason: “Yeah, actually our families went on vacation together. Disney World. We were floating in the pool, drinking mai tais.”

• Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson on Georgia before his Tigers lost to the Bulldogs 41-20: “It’s like watching Big Ten football. It’s old man football.”

• Georgia coach Mark Richt on kicker Marshall Morgan: “He must have played pinball as a kid.” Morgan has made three extra points after caroming them off the uprights and is 28 of 31 on PATs.

Noteworthy stats

 

• 248 The total number of points scored by Georgia this season. That’s 26 more than the next closest team — South Carolina — in the SEC

• 145 That’s the total number of points given up by Georgia this year. Arkansas (210), Kentucky (181), Ole Miss (166) and Tennessee (148) have given up more this season among SEC teams.

• 1 Remaining teams on the regular-season schedule that are currently ranked. Florida is No. 4.