ATHENS, Ga. -- Michael Bennett’s season-ending knee injury comes at the worst possible time for No. 5 Georgia, which faces No. 6 South Carolina and its powerful defense on Saturday.
Bennett had come into his own as a sophomore, leading the team with 24 catches, 345 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Those totals stood fifth in the SEC in receiving yards, tied for sixth in receptions and tied for second in touchdown catches, so the Bulldogs coaches clearly must readjust their passing attack without one of their most important pieces.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo can at least take comfort in the knowledge that Bennett plays one of the deeper positions on the team. The redshirt sophomore wideout and seniors Marlon Brown (17 catches for 272 yards and three touchdowns) and Tavarres King (16-307, 3 TDs) all had similar receiving numbers. Bennett is seventh in the SEC with an average of 69 receiving yards per game, while Brown (68 ypg) is eighth and King (61.4) is 10th.
With King and Brown still available as the top receivers, the question now becomes which receivers will play increased roles in Bennett’s absence.
Junior Rantavious Wooten (six catches, 99 yards, 1 TD) and sophomore Malcolm Mitchell (6-74) already figured to play a great deal. Chris Conley (4-46) would probably be the next player in receivers coach Tony Ball’s pecking order, while Rhett McGowan (2-26) and Justin Scott-Wesley (1-43) could also contribute more significantly.
True freshman Blake Tibbs might also have a chance to play with Bennett unavailable. Tibbs has not played yet and seemed bound for a redshirt, but injuries to Brown and Wooten allowed Conley to play after sitting out the first several games of last season.
Georgia is first in the SEC in total offense (536 yards per game), second in scoring (48.2 points per game) and fourth in passing offense (287.2 ypg), so losing Bennett is a significant blow entering Saturday’s game against a strong South Carolina defense that has been somewhat vulnerable against the pass. The Gamecocks are seventh in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 211.2 yards per game.
The Bulldogs have the pieces in their receiving corps to absorb losing Bennett for the rest of the season, but this is an inconvenient time for Bobo, Ball and the offensive personnel to have to reshuffle a lineup that has been so productive thus far.