Three storylines . . .
Missing persons. Georgia enters the game without its top four tailbacks. Freshman star Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome are suspended after flunking a UGA-administered drug test and backup Richard Samuel underwent season-ending surgery on Tuesday for an ankle injury suffered in the Florida game. The Bulldogs will go with Brandon Harton, a 5-6, 174-pound sophomore from Reidsville who was awarded a scholarship in preseason camp, and Kyle Karempelis (5-9-180), a freshman walkon from Norcross.
Not-so-special teams. Expected to be a team strength this season, Georgia’s special teams plays is instead among the worst in the SEC, where it ranks in the bottom half if not dead last in almost every category. The Bulldogs will look to shore up kickoff coverage in particular. They gave up 200 yards and a touchdown on five returns against Florida last week and New Mexico State features the nation’s 12th-best return team.
Calling the Hogs. While most eyes in college football will be focused on Saturday’s night’s “Game of the Century” between No. 1-ranked LSU and No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa (8 p.m., CBS), the Bulldogs and their fans will be more interested in what’s happening in Fayetteville, Ark., at about the same time (7:15 p.m., ESPN). There No. 8 Arkansas (7-1, 3-1 SEC) will be playing host to No. 10 South Carolina (7-1, 5-1). A Gamecocks’ loss will give Georgia sole possession of first place in the SEC’s Eastern Division.
A Georgia win would . . .
Be its 7th straight for the first time in a season since 2007
Be its 71st in 90 homecoming games (currently 70-17-2)
A New Mexico State win would . . .
Be its first against an SEC opponent in 14 tries.
Keep an eye on …
For Georgia: Brandon Harton. The redshirt sophomore from Reidsville is expected to get the start at tailback in the wake of the Bulldogs losing four others to suspension or injury this week. Harton (5-6, 174), a lightning quick and shifty runner, earned a scholarship in preseason camp and had actually worked his way up to No. 3 on the depth chart. But a severe ankle injury late in camp sidelined him for the first two games of the season.
For New Mexico State: Taveon Rogers. The Aggies’ senior wide receiver (6-0, 188) from Lancaster, Calif., is a threat in both the passing and return game. Last week he had 7 catches for 203 yards and 2 touchdowns against Nevada. It was his third multi-TD game of the season. He leads New Mexico State’s wideouts with 32 catches for 669 yards and is also averaging 27.5 yards on kickoff returns with a nation-leading two touchdowns.
The numbers game
Offensive touchdowns surrendered by Georgia defense in last 6 games
Aggregate score of Bulldogs three wins over New Mexico State
Tackles by Aggies safety Donyae Coleman vs. Nevada last week
The history book
Series record: Georgia leads 3-0
The last time: On Sept. 28, 2002, the Bulldogs fell behind 7-0 before scoring 41 unanswered points. Damien Gary notched Georgia’s first two scores on a 71-yard punt return and a 20-yard pass from David Greene.
The bottom line
This non-conference game comes conveniently sandwiched between rival contests against Florida and Auburn. Meanwhile, New Mexico State is exactly the type of opponent the Bulldogs need at this juncture of the season. The Aggies feature a high-octane offense (419 yards, 30 points per game) and one of the best return games in the country. Meanwhile, they’re giving up 442 yards a game and their rush defense ranks 111th nationally. So Georgia should be able to absorb its personnel losses while having to stay sharp and focused.
– Chip Towers