The promise of big things still to come ran through the Georgia football program when it exited September having gone through the gauntlet of a demanding schedule with its championship aspirations still intact.
Then came a cruel, cruel October where injuries couldn’t be band-aided over, a young defense couldn’t make needed stops and untimely special teams blowups continued.
There’s been so much packed in the first seven games for this Bulldogs squad — drama wasn’t in short supply — and it’s a good thing this college football season has two open dates.
Georgia can certainly use a chance to catch its breath, let its many injuries mend and regroup and revive to make a stretch run.
Who knows what November will bring?
Will tailback Todd Gurley return from his ankle injury to regain the form of one of the top tailbacks in all of the land?
Will Georgia get starting safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons out of the training room and making plays in Jacksonville against Florida next Saturday?
Will there actually be a compelling Southeastern Conference East race or will Missouri remain in firm control by downing South Carolina tonight?
Now is not the time to stress.
The Bulldogs are off this weekend.
Go ahead and carve your pumpkin. Put your feet up. Grab the remote. And let some other team’s fanbase get riled up this weekend.
Before the games kickoff, chew on this: A look at where this Georgia season has gone and where it could be going.
Let’s call it our midseason report for a regular season that’s past the midway point after seven games.
1. Murray-Mettenberger. The battle of 2010 Georgia starting quarterback candidates didn’t disappoint. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger dazzled in his return to Georgia. Georgia’s Aaron Murray went throw for throw with his old roommate. They combined for seven touchdown passes and 670 passing yards in a 44-41 Georgia victory.
2. Marshall-Garner. The Nov. 16 game at Auburn will match Georgia against former Bulldogs defensive back Nick Marshall, now the Tigers starting quarterback. Marshall was dismissed after playing in 13 games in 2011. Rodney Garner was Georgia’s defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator for 15 years before returning to his alma mater to serve in those same roles.
3. Jancek-Martinez. Former Georgia defensive assistants John Jancek and Willie Martinez almost had a chance to celebrate a Tennessee upset against the Bulldogs but Pig Howard’s fumble through the end zone in overtime helped Georgia avoid the upset. Georgia put up 434 yards and 34 points against a Tennessee defense that Jancek coordinates and Martinez is the secondary coach.
1. RBs Todd Gurley/Keith Marshall. We’ll do this by position group since there are so many. J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas have produced admirably when called upon as freshman, but they lack the game-changing ability that Gurley and Marshall possess. Georgia went 1-2 without Gurley after he went down with a sprained ankle. Marshall was lost for the season with a torn ACL against Tennessee.
2. WRs Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley, Michael Bennett, Chris Conley. Kenneth Towns and Blake Tibbs went from scout teamers to being pushed into action due to so many injuries at wideout. Mitchell’s freak ACL tear from celebrating a Gurley touchdown at Clemson set the tone. Scott-Wesley was lost with another ACL injury covering a punt at Tenneessee, robbing the Bulldogs of a deep threat. Bennett could be back against Florida after missing two games following minor knee surgery, but now Conley could be shelved with an ankle injury.
3. DBs Tray Matthews, Reggie Wilkerson, Connor Norman, Josh Harvey-Clemons. With all the injuries on offense, often overlooked is that Matthews, Georgia’s starting free safety, has missed three straight games with a pulled hamstring. He wasn’t at full strength either for the opener at Clemson after missing much of the preseason with a hamstring injury. Wilkerson, a freshman cornerback, was expected to be in the secondary rotation before a season-ending summer knee injury. Norman missed the Tennessee game with a concussion and Harvey-Clemons now is dealing with a foot injury.
1. Quarterback Aaron Murray. Even after a down day against Vanderbilt, Murray still ranks second in the SEC in passing yards (276.9 per game) and touchdowns (17) behind only Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. Murray played two of the best games of his college career in leading the Bulldogs to top-10 wins over LSU and South Carolina. He probably still needs a strong finish to get postseason honors in a conference loaded with quality quarterbacks.
2. Kicker Marshall Morgan. The sophomore missed the first two games of the season due to suspension, but is 10 of 12 on field goals, including makes from 56 and 55 yards. His PAT struggles from his freshman season also appear gone. He’s perfect on 20 tries this season.
3. Defensive end Ray Drew. The five-start recruit is finally producing at a level many expected he would when he came to Georgia. He is tied for third in the SEC with five sacks despite not playing in the second half against Vanderbilt after being tossed for a targeting penalty.
3a. Tailback Todd Gurley. Assuming Gurley can return to the form he showed in the first month of the season, the tailback again will draw strong consideration for being among the elite in the conference, if not the nation. His 112.5 rushing yards per game would rank behind only South Carolina’s Mike Davis in the SEC if he had played in enough games.
Biggest special teams catastrophes
1. Georgia unable to handle high punt snap against Vanderbilt. Punter Collin Barber, who had two punts blocked this season and dropped another snap against South Carolina, couldn’t snag the high snap from Trent Frix against Vanderbilt. The Commodores scored on the next play on a 13-yard touchdown run.
2. Muffed punt against Vanderbilt. Damian Swann was in the game in a “punt safe” situation to field the ball cleanly, but it bounced off his chest and Vanderbilt recovered. Georgia’s defense appeared to make up for it with a stop, but a fourth-down targeting penalty on Ramik Wilson was overturned on replay, but still assessed by rule, giving the Commodores a first down and they scored a touchdown.
3. Botched field goal try against Clemson. Georgia never got off a field goal attempt against Clemson after Nathan Theus’s high snap late in the third quarter couldn’t be corralled by holder Adam Erickson. The Bulldogs trailed 31-28 at the time and lost 38-35.
Most important plays
1. Aaron Murray’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley vs. LSU. The scoring strike with 1:47 left was the final of 10 touchdowns scored in a 44-41 shootout and lifted the No. 9 Bulldogs to the win over the No. 6 Tigers.
2. Goal-line stand against South Carolina. With the Gamecocks driving with a chance to pull within a field goal, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson snuffed out a fourth-down option play from the 1-yard line. Georgia’s offense then ran out the clock.
3. Murray to Rantavious Wooten 2-yard touchdown vs. Tennessee. The play capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive that started with 1:49 left to go and Georgia trailing by a touchdown. It forced overtime, where the Bulldogs won with a 42-yard Marshall Morgan field goal.
Areas to work on
1. Turnover margin. Georgia ranks tied for 103rd in the nation. It has gained just seven turnovers and lost 12. Only Arkansas ranks worst in the SEC.
2. Defense. There was some positive signs against Vanderbilt, but Georgia still is 100th in the nation in scoring defense (33.3 ppg), 113th in red zone defense (92.3) and 90th in third down defense (42.2).
3. Third down offense. Georgia is converting just 36 percent of the time, which ranks 88th nationally. The Bulldogs went 4 of 14 against Vanderbilt. Georgia ranked 17th in the nation last year at 47.5 percent.
Aaron Murray SEC record watch
1 Touchdown passes. Murray is still three away from passing Florida’s Danny Wuerffel, who owns the SEC record with 114.
2. Pass completions. He’s sixth with 835, just three from tying former Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier and 14 from former Bulldog David Greene. The SEC record holder is Chris Leak with 895.
3. Touchdown responsibility. Murray has 126 (112 passing and 14 rushing), leaving him 19 away from tying Tim Tebow’s SEC record.
1. Florida-bound. After trips to the Capital One and Outback Bowls the past two seasons, New Year’s Day in Florida wasn’t exactly what Georgia was shooting for this season, but given the Bulldogs are 4-3 now, it would be a pretty good landing spot.
2. Repeat trips. Georgia will play in Jacksonville and Atlanta to start and end November for games with Florida and Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs could end up in Jacksonville again for the Gator Bowl (against a Big Ten team) and Atlanta again for the Chick-fil-A Bowl (against an ACC team).
3. Sliding down. Bowl trips to Shreveport and Memphis in 2009 and 2010 aren’t fond memories for Georgia, but a couple of more losses for the Bulldogs and trips to Nashville (Music City) or Memphis again (Liberty) are on the table.