Georgia geared up to make a national title run this season after coming up five yards short from the championship game a year ago.
After the turn of events in the last three weeks, it might feel like the Bulldogs are now 5,000 miles away.
On the same day the first BCS standings were released, Georgia fell out of the top 25 of the polls Sunday for the first time since Oct. 15, 2011.
Instead of a national title contender, the injury-ravaged Bulldogs are close to looking like an Southeastern Conference East also-ran. Getting some playmakers back on offense could help.
Fifth-ranked Missouri (7-0, 3-0 SEC) is in prime position to win the SEC East with a two game lead over Georgia (4-3, 3-2), South Carolina and Florida.
“When you look at the league, everybody’s got two losses but Missouri, so it’s not impossible,” coach Mark Richt said. “Missouri’s got five more conference games, so mathematically, it’s not over. To me, I’m going to fight until it’s over. I think the coaches and the players feel the same way.”
Georgia got some relatively good news on the injury front. Richt said that a foot injury to safety Josh Havey-Clemons and an ankle injury to receiver Chris Conley, both sustained in the 31-27 loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday, won’t require surgery and might not keep them out for Georgia’s next game Nov. 2 against Florida.
“We’re hopeful that they’ll be able to play in the Florida game,” Richt said. “I’d say Josh is more likely than Chris at this moment, but it’s a long ways away before that. I’m not going to count anybody out yet.”
Star tailback Todd Gurley, out since the LSU win on Sept. 28 with an ankle injury, “has a pretty good shot” to return against Florida. Richt said Georgia is feeling “pretty good” that receiver Michael Bennett, who’s missed the past two games, also will play against the Gators.
Georgia was still shooting for reaching the national title game after beating LSU on Sept. 28, but an overtime win at Tennessee that took a toll on the offense with injuries to three top playmkers — tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley were lost for the season — and back-to-back losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt have the Bulldogs sinking fast.
Without them, Georgia managed just 221 yards of total offense Saturday, its lowest since Dec. 30, 2006, in a Chick-fil-A Bowl win against Virginia Tech. Quarterback Aaron Murray’s 114 passing yards was the third lowest of his career after the Bulldogs took few shots downfield.
“I think it’s a good time for us to go back to the drawing board and improve,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We’ve got to get better. We do have new guys in there and we’ve got to improve with those guys. That’s what we’ve got to do the next two weeks.”
If Missouri beats South Carolina Saturday, the Bulldogs’ flickering East chances get even dimmer.
“Georgia got beat? Oh,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after Saturday’s loss at Tennessee. “We’ve got some work to do, though.”
Missouri’s five conference games remaining still include the No. 20 Gamecocks, No. 14 Texas A&M and a game at Ole Miss.
Georgia and Florida, which also has an open date this week, are on track to meet as unranked teams in the rivalry for just the second time since 1979. They were both unranked in 2010.
Notes: Richt offered more perspective Sunday on the targeting penalties against Georgia than he did immediately after the game. He said the penalty to defensive end Ray Drew that drew an automatic ejection after a hit on quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels didn’t quite fit the spirit of the rule. “It didn’t look like Ray was trying to blast a guy in any way, shape or form,” Richt said. “I think he was trying to pull up. He certainly didn’t drive through the guy or try to hit him violently in any way, shape of form. … I don’t really think that rule was trying to capture that type of play.” … Georgia was fifth in the others receiving votes in both The Associated Press poll and USA Today coaches’ poll.