What’s shaping up as a two-team race for the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title gets a pause this week with both Georgia and South Carolina heading into open dates on their schedules.
The complexion of that battle for the division crown may have changed significantly Sunday when word came that South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore is out for the season with a knee injury.
“I really don’t know other than we absolutely got to keep winnin g,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of the impact the injury could have on the fight for first. “Somebody’s still got to beat South Carolina. … I know it’s hard to lose a player such as a quarterback or such as a Lattimore, one of the finest players in America. It’s got to affect your team to a certain degree, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still win.”
Lattimore, who sustained ligament and cartilage damage in Saturday’s 14-12 win at Mississippi State, ranks second in the SEC with 810 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Georgia (5-2, 4-1 SEC) would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker to South Carolina (6-1, 4-1) by virtue of the Gamecocks’ win on Sept. 10.
Now with Lattimore out, the Gamecocks’ conference slate — at Tennessee, at No. 10 Arkansas and home against Florida — looks more imposing. Quarterback Stephen Garcia already was kicked off the team last week.
Meanwhile, Georgia plays next on Oct. 29 against Florida in Jacksonville.
The Bulldogs expect to get back outside linebacker Cornelius Washington (DUI suspension), inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (broken foot) and top receiver Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring) after the bye week.
“I think just having the open date right now is very healthy for us,” said Richt, who was relaxing and getting extra rest on Sunday. “We need it. Our coaches need it. I need it myself, personally.”
Georgia moved back into the national rankings on Sunday when it cracked the Associated Press poll in a tie for 24th with Arizona State. The Bulldogs are 26th in the coaches’ poll and are 27th in the Harris poll.
Georgia had been out of the rankings since losing to Boise State in the opener, but after an 0-2 start the Bulldogs have won five in a row, including a 33-28 win Saturday night at Vanderbilt.
The Bulldogs had not been ranked in a poll outside of September since 2008.
Florida (4-3, 2-3) is on a three-game losing streak, just like last year when the Gators came off a bye week to beat Georgia 34-31 in overtime.
The Gators lost to Alabama 38-10, LSU 41-11, and Auburn 17-6 the past three weeks, but could see the return of quarterback John Brantley from an ankle injury against Georgia.
“Who knows when we’ll know who’s going to play quarterback,” Richt said. “It’s going to be very difficult to know.”
The Gators, are one of four three-loss SEC East teams, along with Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Georgia has two weeks before the Florida game, which means hearing more about losing 18 of the past 21 contests to the Gators.
“That’s part of it,” Richt said. “That’s just how it goes with college football. You’ve got two weeks where everybody is going to analyze, this that and the other.”
Notes: Richt said he’s talked to those within his program about the post-game scuffle Satuurday night in which defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin exchanged angry words.
“I’ve addressed it with everybody involved,” Richt said. “We all know that we want to do things a certain way and we want to be able to keep our poise throughout the ballgame, too.”
Richt, assistant coaches and Vanderbilt police tried to separate the teams on the field. Richt has watched a video of the incident.
“Yeah, I saw it,” he said. “I just think tempers were hot. It was a very heated ballgame, a very close ballgame, a very emotional ballgame for everybody.”
Richt was asked if he expected any “repercussions” to come from the SEC for anything in the game, including when it appeared that nose guard Kwame Geathers punched a Vanderbilt player.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I’ve not been contacted in any way on those issues and hopefully we won’t.” … Defensive end DeAngelo Tyson has a mild MCL sprain, Richt said. Tyson finished Saturday’s game and Richt said he’s expected to be fine. Safety Bacarri Rambo could be limited in practice this week with a minor toe injury. … Georgia will return to practice on Tuesday.