ATHENS — Georgia’s football team suffered a significant and untimely injury, learning Wednesday that its leading receiver, Michael Bennett, will miss the remainder of the season with a torn knee ligament.
Bennett, injured on the final play of Tuesday’s closed practice, was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will require reconstructive surgery, UGA said.
The news came as No. 5 Georgia prepares for Saturday’s game at No. 6 South Carolina, a showdown of undefeated SEC East teams.
Georgia’s offense surely will miss Bennett against the Gamecocks’ stellar defense. Through five games, he leads the Bulldogs’ receivers in catches (24), yards (345) and touchdowns (4).
Bennett reacted to his season-ending injury via Twitter, writing: “God has a plan for me and everything happens for a reason. Get ready for a historic season Dawg nation. Our boys are gonna get it done!”
Coach Mark Richt said the injury occurred as Bennett was blocking in the final drill of practice.
“It’s very sad that it happened,” Richt said. “It was a heck of a practice, really. Everybody was working hard; everybody had a good attitude; scout teamers were getting after it. Everything you’d hope for in a Tuesday practice, we were having.
“And then, on the very last [play] of the day, he was engaged in a block and was just working it. And as he was moving — no one ran into him [or] rolled into him or anything like that — his knee buckled. And there it was.”
Bennett, an Alpharetta High graduate, was redshirted as a UGA freshman in 2010 and showed considerable promise in 2011 before emerging as a top target for quarterback Aaron Murray this season.
Bennett had eight catches against Missouri, 110 receiving yards against Florida Atlantic and, in what proved to be his final game of the season, five catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee last week. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining, and Richt expects that he’ll be ready to play at the start of next season.
Wide receiver is one of Georgia’s deepest positions. After Bennett, the team’s next most productive receivers have been seniors Marlon Brown (17 catches for 272 yards and three touchdowns) and Tavarres King (16 catches for 307 yards and three touchdowns). Rantavious Woote, Chris Conley and Rhett McGowan also have contributed. Even before Bennett’s injury, the coaches returned Malcolm Mitchell — the Bulldogs’ second leading receiver behind King last year — to primarily an offensive role after using him on defense through the season’s first four weeks.
“Now, especially with Bennett’s injury, we’re going to be using [Mitchell] more offensively,” Richt said. “But that was the plan [already].”
Richt likes Georgia’s depth at wide receiver but says the group will miss Bennett in more ways than one.
“I think we’re still going to be fine, but we’re losing a guy that I personally think helped the toughness of our unit [in] the way he went about his business, even when he was redshirted,” Richt said. “Just a tough, hard-nosed football player, a guy who was going to make a tough catch, a guy who was going to block, a guy who was going to practice with a lot of intensity.”
King wants to pay tribute to Bennett during Saturday’s game. “I wanna wear 82 this week,” King tweeted, referring to Bennett’s jersey number.