ATHENS – Life without Marlon Brown began Monday for the Georgia Bulldogs. That was their first practice for the Auburn game and their first without Brown this season.
Make no mistake about it: Brown’s loss was a big blow. His season-ending knee injury is as hurtful as Michael Bennett in Week 6 and probably makes it twice as bad since Bennett was already gone.
The best thing about Georgia’s receiving corps this season is it doesn’t have a “feature guy” who Aaron Murray feels like he has to throw to every series. There are great things about having an A.J. Green or Sammy Watkins or Marqise Lee, but it’s even better if you have a 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D as Georgia did in Bennett and Brown and Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell. When coupled with a quarterback like Murray, who is a true reader of defenses and simply throws to the open man, it makes the Bulldogs a tough team to defend.
Case in point, Murray’s four touchdown passes against Ole Miss this pass weekend went to four different receivers. His 21 completions went to 11 different targets. Even more telling: He never had a leading receiver in back-to-back games through nine games. Brown led five different wideouts with three 100-plus receiving games, including this past Saturday, when he left the game in the third quarter with 113 on three catches.
The problem in losing Brown now is you lose the chance to have any guy like him. Bennett’s loss the week of the South Carolina could be absorbed in that he and Brown were very much the same kind of wideout — in the 6-4 to 6-5 range, faster than defenses expect, very sure hands in traffic. Brown left Saturday’s game sharing the team lead in receptions with 27 along with 469 yards and 4 touchdowns. Together with Bennett, they combined for 51 catches and 814 yards and 8 TDs over 14 games played. That’s tough for any team to absorb.
Certainly King has been stalwart captain of the group and he will continue to be so. As he did last season, he leads the Bulldogs again this one with 27 catches for 551 yards and a team-best 6 TDs. And Mitchell has proven to be the play-maker he was last year on offense since returning from the defense in week five. He currently has 26 catches for 358 yards and 2 TDs. Expect Murray to be looking their way a little more often.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs will be looking for somebody else to step up out of the “next” group. It includes experienced junior Rantavious Wooten (12-154-2), talented sophomore Chris Conley (7-84-1) and reliable junior Rhett McGowan (5-46). Now would be a good time redshirt freshman speedster Justin Scott-Wesley (1-43) to show he can get into the mix as well.
“We still have some playmakers,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday. “But Marlon and Michael were just two outstanding football players . . . And they actually had a nice physicality to them them (at) that position. We’ll miss that. Other guys are just going to have to step up and get after it.”
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they also run a pro-style, multiple offense that’s very diverse when it comes featuring personnel groupings. It’s easy for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to call more pass plays for tight ends and fullbacks, especially with Murray at the controls.
But as all the Bulldogs will attests, it’s certainly not going to be the same without Marlon Brown.