NASHVILLE, Tenn. – First, the injuries started mounting up for the Georgia Bulldogs. Now the losses are, too — along with any hopes of getting back to Atlanta for a second straight season.
At least the Bulldogs have a break in the schedule to rest up before the annual showdown against Florida.
"This is a much needed open date," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "We've got to figure this out. Do some soul searching and really figure out what we need to do individually and as a team to get better. There are still a lot of great games left, a big game versus Florida in a couple weeks. We got to put this one behind us, get back to work, find a way and ... just keep getting better."
The Bulldogs overcame their injuries in pulling out an overtime win at Tennessee.
Then they lost to Missouri and had two more injuries Saturday in a 31-27 loss at Vanderbilt that knocked Georgia out of the Top 25 for the first time in two years. The injuries continued as receiver Chris Conley hurt an ankle on the final play. Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons hurt his right foot in the second quarter, and he didn't return.
Coach Mark Richt said on Sunday that it appears Harvey-Clemons has a better chance than Conley of playing against the Gators on Nov. 2.
Richt hopes that tailback Todd Gurley and receiver Michael Bennett will be ready for the Florida game, but he wants both players to get in at least a week of practice before they return.
"It's tough, but we got to just keep grinding," Murray said. "Like I said, our leaders really have to step up and make sure everyone stays focused, stays hungry and keeps working."
Georgia was up 27-14 in the third quarter and didn't lose the lead until Jerron Seymour's 13-yard touchdown run with 2:53 left. The Bulldogs helped Vanderbilt's comeback with poor play on special teams leading to a muffed fair catch on a punt, and then a snap went over Collin Barber's head that the punter was lucky to recover.
"It's definitely one that's going to hit us deep," said linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who had two sacks.
Richt has plenty to study on tape.
Vanderbilt held the ball more than 35 minutes, outgained Georgia 337-221 in total offense. Murray became the SEC's all-time leader in total offense, passing Tim Tebow. Yet the senior quarterback in his 48th start had just 114 yards passing, the third-lowest passing performance of his career. Georgia was outgained 94-4 in total offense in the fourth quarter.
"They did a good job of hitting our receivers as the ball was coming," Richt said. "We didn't give up a sack but they put some pressure on us."
It can't help Murray that receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley both are gone for the season with torn ACLs, and Michael Bennett currently is dealing with his own injured knee. Running back Todd Gurley missed his third straight game with a sprained ankle.
That left J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas playing as freshmen. Both had stretches against Vanderbilt where they ran very well, but Douglas fumbled after a catch with 1:59 trying to get more yards.
"Certainly when a guy is trying to get extra yards, the more susceptible he will be to putting the ball on the ground," Richt said. "He has good habits though, I'm sure Vanderbilt did a good job of knocking it out."
Officials took out defensive end Ray Drew, flagging him for targeting when he hit Austyn Carta-Samuels after the Vanderbilt quarterback threw a pass with 11:19 left in the second quarter. The play was reviewed and upheld, sending Drew to the locker room. He entered third in the SEC with five sacks in the previous three games.
Another targeting penalty kept alive Vanderbilt's first TD drive in its comeback on fourth down. Ramik Wilson hit Vandy receiver Jonathan Krause with his shoulder on an incompletion on fourth-and-4. Review kept Wilson in the game, but the penalty stood for a first down.
"I'm ready to see how this officiating, this is going to go over this weekend," Jenkins said.