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According to wide receiver Rantavious Wooten, there's one message position coach Tony Ball repeats to his players that's never been more apropos that this week - prepare like you're the starter.
Following last Saturday's knee injuries to Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett, there's going to be some Bulldogs doing just that when 7th-ranked Georgia (4-1, 3-0) entertains No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0) Saturday afternoon (noon, ESPN).
"All the guys know that in the room, I know that myself so I always had that in the back of my head," Wooten said after practice Monday. "Any guy can be the next man up. Coaches have the final decision on that and at the end of the day, but that's what we do every day in practice."
Scott-Wesley tore his ACL during Saturday's 34-31 overtime win while Bennett suffered what was described in Monday's post-practice injury report as a right meniscus tear.
Bennett is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery Tuesday at St. Mary's hospital to determine how long he might be out.
Fellow wide out Rhett McGowan doesn't think it will be long.
"I hope soon," McGowan said. "He said he will know more after Tuesday. Hope as soon as possible."
Bennett will miss Saturday's game against Missouri and next week's game at Vanderbilt. If the meniscus is indeed the only damage, with an open date Oct. 26, it's conceivable the junior could return for the Nov. 2 against Florida.
"It's rough. Your heart goes out to those guys and you look back to January, seeing those guys going to work with out and having great goals for the season coming up. It's tough to see them go down in a split second like that," starting right guard Chris Burnette said. "But at the turn of the day, the silver lining is those guys sacrificed their bodies for a greater cause, for us to reach our goal and that is Pasadena. We know we're still going to work hard for those guys and make sure what happened to them does not affect anything."
In the meantime, other receivers are going to have to step.
Against Missouri, the top four wideouts are expected to be Chris Conley, Reggie Davis, McGowan and Wooten. But other players, like Blake Tibbs and possibly Kenneth Towns will be asked to play contributing roles.
The Bulldogs still hope junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph will be a factor but Richt has already ruled him out as he continues his recovery from a strained hamstring.
A former three-star performer, Tibbs had previously struggled to fully comprehend the Bulldogs' system.
But ready or not, he's apparently about to get his chance.
"I feel like it's mostly been the people in front of him but he's one of those guys who came in slow with learning the plays, learning what to do," Wooten said. "But I think he's definitely gained some ground over the last couple of months and in camp. The coaches want it from him and I want it from him, too. I've seen the dedication and him wanting to improve. He's going to go to work."
Wooten believes Tibbs and the rest will do fine.
"That's why they were brought here, to make plays," he said. "They just haven't had their name called out. I've seen those particular guys get better so I think they're ready for the opportunity."
Georgia's post-practice injury report Monday was a long one
Besides Bennett, Scott-Wesley, running backs Todd Gurley (left ankle sprain) and Keith Marshall remain out, along with starting free safety Tray Matthews (left hamstring strain) and punter Collin Barber (Concussion).
Other Dawgs on the list include safety Shaquille Fluker (illness, out), defensive end James DeLoach (concussion, limited), fullback Quayvon Hicks (left ankle/knee sprain, out), wide receiver Jonathon Rumph (left hamstring strain, out) and safety Connor Norman (concussion, limited).
Burnette says OL ready to take the lead role
Quarterback Aaron Murray may be the leader for the offense but Burnette said that he and the rest of the offense line are ready to stake their claim.
"I think so. We've been putting pressure on ourselves the past few weeks by just being great because without us things just don't get rolling," he said. "With these injuries, I guess if there was a good time for something like this it's now is because we've challenging ourselves prior to this. We know we've got to be the bell cows for this offense, we've got to be the ones who are accountable and counted on when plays are to be made."
So far, Burnette and company appear to be doing just that.
Georgia's offensive line has allowed just one sack in Georgia's past three games, something the senior attributes to chemistry and good old fashioned hard work.
"People always have questions about us. Honestly, we don't care," Burnette said. "We know we have a good unit and as long as we have that continuity and believe in each other we will be fine."
Georgia-Vandy set for noon
The SEC on Monday that next week's game at Vanderbilt will kick off at noon ET and be televised by CBS.
Tim Brando will have the call.
It's actually going to be one of Georgia's earliest kickoffs in memory, as the game will actually kick off at 11 a.m. as Nashville is in Central Time.
The game is part of a CBS doubleheader which will be followed by Auburn at Texas A&M at 3:30 p.m.
This will mark Georgia's third appearance on CBS this season.
Overall, the Bulldogs have appeared on CBS 74 times and posted a record of 43-30-1.
Burnette, Morgan honored by SEC
Burnette and kicker Marshall Morgan each picked up an award Monday from the conference office as the SEC Lineman of the Week and Special Teams Player of the Week, respectively.
Burnette graded out at 82 percent and finished with six dominator blocks and four knockdowns during the Bulldogs' 34-31 overtime win.
He is part of a Georgia offensive line that has given up just one sack in the past three weeks.
"It's awesome," Burnette said. "I don't really try to play for too many accolades because it's always good to be recognized by the league."
Morgan, meanwhile, scored 10 points including the game-winning 42-yarder in overtime.
Although he missed a 39-yarder that would have given the Bulldogs a 20-3 lead, Morgan earlier boomed a career-best 56 yarder on Georgia's opening possession, the longest for a team against Tennessee and the longest in the history of Neyland Stadium.
This and that
Linebacker Ramik Wilson denied that the defense purposely allowed Tennessee's Rajion Neal to score with 1:54 left to make sure the offense had time to go for a game-tying score.
Richt said he was pleased with Monday's 90-minute practice in preparation for Saturday's game against Missouri. "I thought we had a solid practice today," head coach Mark Richt said. "One of the goals today was to clean up some of the mistakes we made. We came into today trying to get better, and I think we did. We know we have a tremendous challenge against Missouri on Saturday. It's important that we put together a good week of preparation."
Along with Burnette, Richt named Kenarious Gates as captains Saturday for the offense, along with Garrison Smith (defense) and Morgan (special teams).
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