Georgia must not only shake off its season-opening loss but come to grips with the absence of one of its best players for Saturday‚Äôs game against No. 6 South Carolina and the rest of the season.
Malcolm Mitchell, the explosive, playmaking wide receiver, is done for the year, coach Mark Richt said Sunday evening. An MRI confirmed he tore the ACL in his right knee.
Mitchell‚Äôs injury came amid jubilation after a 75-yard, first-quarter Todd Gurley touchdown run in the Bulldogs‚Äô 38-35 loss to Clemson on Saturday night.
Mitchell, Gurley and receiver Chris Conley all jumped up together to celebrate in the back of the end zone. Mitchell landed awkwardly.
‚ÄúI think they jumped up and chest bumped or whatever and it ended up he landed in a bad way,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs when he knew something had happened.‚Äù
Mitchell is a deep threat who had 85 catches for 1,237 yards and eight touchdowns in two seasons for Georgia despite playing cornerback at the start of last season. He was selected third-team preseason All-SEC by the coaches.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got other guys that have gone deep that can make plays for us, but Malcolm was certainly one guy that can do that,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúHe had great speed, quickness, he would snatch the ball in traffic. He was a great competitor.‚Äù
It‚Äôs the second straight season Georgia lost a top receiver before the South Carolina game. Michael Bennett tore his ACL in a practice before the early October game last season.
Georgia‚Äôs secondary will be boosted against South Carolina for the 4:30 p.m. game on ESPN by the return of one of its top defensive players in starting strong safety/nickel back Josh Harvey-Clemons, coming off a suspension. Junior safety Corey Moore, who missed the opener with a knee injury, also is expected back.
‚ÄúWe know it‚Äôs a big game in that our quest is to try to win the Southeastern Conference and we haven‚Äôt even played a conference game yet,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got a lot to play for.‚Äù
Richt said on his weekly coaches show that the staff worked hard on the game plan for South Carolina over the summer, with 90 percent of it already completed.
‚ÄúIt will be a big test as we knew it would be,‚Äù South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre looking forward to going in between the hedges and see what happens.‚Äù
The Bulldogs are looking to end a three-game losing streak to the Gamecocks, who beat North Carolina 27-10 on Thursday night.
Despite defeating Georgia, the Gamecocks saw the Bulldogs go to the SEC title game the past two years.
‚ÄúWhoever wins or loses, it just proves that they‚Äôre not in the driver‚Äôs seat for anything,‚Äù Spurrier said. ‚ÄúFlorida is very good. Tennessee could be very good this year. Vandy lost a heartbreaker the other night. Everybody‚Äôs pretty good so we just try to play one at a time and see what happens.‚Äù
Even starting 0-1 for the third time in five years, there is plenty of season left and a chance to still make a run at SEC and even BCS titles that the Bulldogs began the season pointing towards.
They‚Äôll have to do it without Mitchell, who will undergo surgery sometime ‚Äúin the near future,‚Äù Richt said.
Richt said he expects the junior from Valdosta will be granted a medical redshirt, giving him two years of eligibility if he pursued that. It‚Äôs the same knee that Mitchell underwent surgery on this spring for a menicus tear and had some swelling this preseason.
One player that Georgia will count on in Mitchell‚Äôs absence is redshirt sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley, who had four catches for 55 yards on Saturday.
Note: Gurley strained his quadriceps on the same touchdown run that Mitchell tore his ACL on but Gurley‚Äôs injury isn‚Äôt expected to keep him out Saturday. He returned to rush for 154 yards on 12 carries. That marked his 10th 100-yard rushing game in 15 college games ‚Ä¶ Richt on if kicker Marshall Morgan will be suspended a second game for his boating under the influence arrest: ‚ÄúWe‚Äôll let everybody know later on,‚Äù Richt said. ‚Ä¶ Georgia started six first-time starters on defense, including three true freshmen ‚Äî safety Tray Matthews, cornerback Brendan Langley and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. ‚Ä¶ Georgia played nine true freshmen scholarship players on Saturday. Besides the three defensive starters, the others were cornerback Shaq Wiggins, tailback J.J. Green, safety Quincy Mauger, linebackers Reggie Carter, Tim Kimbrough and Ryne Rankin. Kimbrough and Carter were getting defensive snaps on Georgia‚Äôs second defensive series. Freshman walk-on Trent Frix also played in the fourth quarter on Georgia‚Äôs final extra point of the game. Nathan Theus had a high snap on a field goal try in the third quarter.