Georgia gets A.J. Green, its difference maker at wide receiver, back after Saturday’s game at Mississippi State.
Corey Perrine/Morris News Service Georgia receiver Rantavious Wooten leaps while attempting to catch a pass in last Saturday’s loss to Arkansas. Wooten is one of the players expected to return to the Bulldogs next season.
Morris News Service
The Bulldogs are in an 0-2 hole in the Southeastern Conference without him.
Their running game has yet to get rolling. Their tight ends have combined for five catches. And the offense has yet to put together a complete performance in Green’s absence.
Green should make an instant impact next week at Colorado when he returns from his suspension for selling a game jersey for $1,000 to someone the NCAA deemed an agent.
The first four games without Green might be a window into what Georgia could have to deal with next season if Green jumps to the NFL. The junior is considered a top-10 draft prospect should he enter the draft.
Georgia’s top receiver in Green’s absence has been Kris Durham, a senior who will be out of eligibility after this season.
The Bulldogs will return the rest of their receiving corps: Tavarres King, Marlon Brown, Logan Gray, Israel Troupe and Rantaviouis Wooten.
“All of them have had a chance to make plays and they’ve made plays,” quarterback Aaron Murray said.
“All of them have caught the ball and made plays after the catch. We definitely have plenty of skill guys, it’s a matter of me getting them the ball in their hands and letting them do their thing.”
Still, Murray said of the prospect of playing next season minus Green: “I don’t think anyone in the country will be like A.J.”
Green averaged 80.8 receiving yards per game last season when he led the Bulldogs with 53 receptions and six touchdowns catches.
South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson told reporters after Georgia’s 17-6 loss to the Gamecocks that the Bulldogs missed the “vertical strike” to Green, a player he said could be counted on for three deep balls a game, usually two that he catches.
“That can change the field position,” Johnson said. “He can change a gameplan at times.”
Without Green, defenses are playing more one-on-one coverages outside and moving both safeties up in run support, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
Georgia’s receivers responded against Arkansas when Murray threw for 253 yards and the Bulldogs rallied from 14 down to tie the game in the fourth quarter before losing 31-24.
Durham has shown an ability to make plays down field. He has 13 catches for 260 yards and a touchdown.
“They’ve taken upon themselves that, ‘A.J. Green is out and we’re not going to be able to throw it outside’ and they’ve done a nice job all year of making plays and getting behind people consistently,” Bobo said.
Three receivers have given non-binding verbal commitments to sign with Georgia in 2011: North Paulding’s Chris Conley, Mitchell County’s Justin Scott-Wesley and Booker T. Washington’s Zach Witchett. The Bulldogs also have freshman Michael Bennett, who is likely to redshirt this season.
Recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner said another receiver could be added to the class.
“The player with the most upside is Justin Scott-Wesley because of his pure speed, but does he end up Demiko Goodman or Jeff Demps?,” said Scott Kennedy, Scout.com’s director of scouting. “That’s the questions when bringing in track guys like that.”
Goodman never became an impact football player at Georgia, although he was a standout sprinter on the track team. Demps is an NCAA champion sprinter at Florida, but is also one of the Gator football team’s top playmakers as a rusher and kick returner.
Kennedy said the 6-foot-2 Conley “reminds me of a bigger version of Israel Troupe. He’s capable of playing very physical and making the tough catches in traffic.”
None of Georgia’s receiver commitments rank in Scout.com’s top 30 at the position nationally.
“I wouldn’t look to the commitment list for players to step into Green’s shoes next year,” Kennedy said. “I would hope that players like Marlon Brown would continue to develop and become that No. 1 receiver that can impact a game.”
Brown, a prized recruit in the 2009 recruiting class, has five catches for 74 yards this season.
“Around this time last year, I had like zero confidence, but now I’m getting up there pretty high,” Brown said
King has seven catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in two games.
“I feel like this year I’ve come out of my shell a little bit and got a lot more confidence than I did last year,” said King, who had a 47-yard catch against Arkansas and a 10-yard touchdown reception.
In the third quarter Saturday with Georgia trailing Arkansas 17-7, Murray completed three straight passes on three successive plays to receivers who will return next season.
He hit Brown for 10 yards, connected with Troupe on a skinny post for 16 yards and then hooked up with Gray for 8 yards. Blair Walsh booted a 43-yard field goal to end the drive.
Brown and Wooten are only sophomores and Gray has played only three games at receiver.
“A year from now, they’ll be better,” receivers coach Tony Ball said. “They will be a year older, a year wiser and more experienced.”