ATHENS, Ga. – The most productive offense in Georgia football history will probably be remembered more for what it lost as opposed to what it gained.
Mike Bobo's offense is on pace to pass marks set by his record-setting 2012 group.
Just for starters: There were injuries to the team's top four receivers at various points, including the No. 1 guy being lost for the season five minutes into the opening game. There was the star tailback midseason, his backup soon after (also for the year) and then the starting quarterback late in the season (gone for the year, too).
Had Mike Bobo known ahead of time, “I probably would have been sick."
“I would have lost more hair than I’ve already lost,” he added with a laugh. “You always have your fair share of injuries, but this year seems a little bit abnormal.”
While there won’t be any championships for Georgia this season, the ability to overcome such remarkable skill position attrition has earned Bobo the 247Sports Offensive Coordinator of the Year Award for the 2013 season.
“It’s just a credit to what we did offensively as a team, nothing really I did individually,” Bobo said. “Really, the only thing you want to do as a coordinator is get your guys to believe, and I think this year was the ultimate testament of our guys believing in what we’re doing. All the adversity we had this year, they just stayed the course and kept coming to work and getting better. We had a lot of guys step up that didn’t expect to play, and it was good to see them go out there and do well this year.”
Georgia finished its regular season 8-4 and is headed to the Gator Bowl to take on Nebraska. While still a New Year’s Day bowl, it’s a hollow conclusion for a team that opened the season ranked among the nation’s best after winning the SEC East the past two years.
Georgia's offense overcame the loss of several key skill players including quarterback Aaron Murray late in the season.
The Bulldogs’ 2012 offense set no fewer than seven school records during a 12-2 season, including marks for total points per game, total offensive yards per game, total passing yards and total first downs.
Each of those records could fall this season.
“Our stats this year are just the same if not better than last season,” said senior quarterback Aaron Murray, lost for the season to an ACL tear in the first half of game No. 11. “Last year was unbelievable, and you look at the amount of injuries we’ve had this year, and we’ve still been to put up those types of numbers. I don’t think fans really realize the type of offense we had this year. It’s been pretty unbelievable the things we’ve been able to do really with only half the amount of guys we usually have.”
The 2012 offense scored 37.8 points per game. In 2013, it is 38.2.
The 2012 offense gained 467.64 yards per game. In 2013, it is 489.83.
The 2012 offense gained 297 first downs. In 2013, it is already at 302.
The 2012 offense threw for 3,991 yards. With a game to go, Georgia has thrown for 3,765 this season.
The final two are perhaps most impressive because Georgia played 14 games in the 2012 season and has played only 12 so far this season.
And there's this: The Bulldogs gained more than 500 yards in half of those 12 games, and in four games against opponents ranked in the top 10 nationally. Georgia averaged 39.5 points and 526.75 yards (losing at Clemson and Auburn and beating South Carolina and LSU) in those contests.
“At the end of the day, it’s about winning and losing,” Bobo said. “You’ve got to score one more point than the other team. That’s really all you’re focused on. I knew we had a chance to be pretty good offensively going into this year, just because of the group that was coming back and a fifth-year senior quarterback (in Murray). Those guys did a great job of preparing all offseason, especially Aaron, doing a great job of getting these guys ready to play and getting all of them to believe.
"That’s the No. 1 thing: Those guys believe in each other and believe in what we’re doing and they have fun doing it. Obviously, we’d like to win every ballgame, but I like how the guys play for each other. I like how they play hard, and I like how the seniors have led this year - especially Aaron. A lot of credit goes to him for how we played this season.”
With a majority of starters back from the powerhouse 2012 offense, expectations were high. However, no one could have foreseen the path having so many hurdles. Georgia was actually fortunate to have Murray’s services for most of the season before his injury meant that Hutson Mason spelled him against Kentucky and in a double overtime victory the following week at Georgia Tech.
There were so many others, though. All-SEC tight end Arthur Lynch, himself absent for one game, described the feeling as “kind of like getting kind of shot in the back without the chance to fight.”
The Bulldogs’ leading returning receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, tore his ACL celebrating a first quarter touchdown 5:43 into the opener at Clemson. On that same play, tailback Todd Gurley (1,385 rushing yards in 2012) pulled his quad muscle, starting a season-long battle with being sidelined for various injuries - including a high ankle sprain in the first half against LSU on Sept. 28 that cost him three more games and hasn't completely healed.
The next week at Tennessee, without Gurley, his replacement Keith Marshall (759 rushing yards in 2012) tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, who’d had 116 receiving yards against South Carolina and scored the game-winning touchdown against LSU, tore his ACL in the same game. Another key receiver, Michael Bennett, hurt his knee against the Vols, too. He’d miss the next two games, returning soon after Chris Conley - the team's leading receiver this season - sprained his ankle on a Hail Mary pass to end the Vanderbilt game.
“When it’s happening, you can’t sit there and mope,” UGA coach Mark Richt said. “You’ve got to figure out who you’ve got, get them ready, let’s go and try to find a way to win, because nobody feels sorry for you. But when you go back and look at it, we lost some really good players for that stretch, some of them for the season. … It was an outstanding job by everybody kind of hanging in here and continuing to shoot the bullets we had.”
With Bobo having to check to see who was in the game and figure out plays that substitutes would be able to run, Georgia managed to beat Tennessee in overtime. It came after a game-tying drive in the final minutes where, other than Murray, the five players who touched the ball included three true freshmen, a former walk-on receiver and a senior receiver in Rantavious Wooten - who caught a touchdown yet hadn’t caught more than 15 passes in any season before this one.
“I didn’t think about it so much on the fly in the middle of a game as much as week by week,” Richt said. “You’re like ‘Well, he’s not here anymore. Who on the scout team could possibly know enough to help us?’
“There was a lot of that, and I can’t remember another season like that. I think Mike did a great job -- and the staff.”