ATHENS, Ga. -- J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas combined for 242 yards last Saturday against Missouri, but they also realize that the final score is the statistic that counts most. For the first time this season in a conference game, their Georgia team fell short in that stat.
The two freshman running backs have been perfectly capable replacements since injuries cost Georgia the services of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, but the Bulldogs are 15-3 over the last two seasons with Gurley or Marshall as a starter. Without them in the lineup, No. 15 Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) nearly lost to an underwhelming Tennessee team and then followed with last Saturday's 41-26 loss to Mizzou.
“People will be like, 'Yo, if Todd was there, we probably would have won the game. He probably would have had 200 rushing yards my himself,' ” Green said. “I'm like, 'That don't matter at all.' ”
Such confidence is a necessity in order for the freshmen to be productive players, but they also accept that their contributions will be measured by the final results -- and Georgia's offense simply hasn't clicked like it did earlier in the season before numerous injuries hampered the Bulldogs in recent weeks.
“We've still got to win” Green said. “It doesn't matter what we do. We just want to win, man.”
By and large, the freshmen did enough to help Georgia win both games where they've carried the load in the running game. Green rushed for 129 yards against Tennessee, while Douglas scored a touchdown and made a key reception on the Bulldogs' game-tying drive at the end of regulation. Then Green added 87 rushing yards and 42 receiving and Douglas had 70 rushing and 43 receiving against Mizzou, although Douglas also had a critical second-quarter fumble at the Tigers' 6-yard line.
“I'm disappointed,” Douglas said. “I had that turnover right before the half. I tried to go out and make up for it in the second half, but you really can't make up for something like that. It was disappointing and I'm disappointed in myself.”
That's the one obvious mistake the two freshmen have made, but they have otherwise helped Georgia's running game remain productive, even if they can't fully replace a back like Gurley, who surely ranks among the nation's absolute best runners.
“We're not paralyzed or handcuffed with those guys in there,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “They do a good job. I'm very proud of them.”
They have reason to be proud of themselves, as well.
Green was an early enrollee who was initially slated to play receiver, although injury issues during spring practice led Richt's staff to try him out in the backfield. Sure enough, the 5-foot-9 back's tough running and slippery moves impressed his coaches and teammates, and he seems to have found a home at running back. Douglas didn't arrive until the summer, but his battering-ram running style instantly turned heads, as well.
“We were out there even before Todd and Keith got hurt thinking, 'Hey man, any time could be our chance. We prepared for this. When we get out there, just ball, and that's all we could do,' ” Green said.
Gurley has missed two full games, plus most of the Sept. 28 game against LSU when he sprained his left ankle at the end of a second-quarter run. He was listed as limited on Monday's injury report, with Richt saying afterward on his call-in show that, “I'd be surprised if he could practice full speed tomorrow. It truly is day-to-day and he's getting closer. Can I sit here and say he's going to play in the game? I really don't know and can't predict that right now.”
If Gurley can't go in Saturday's visit to Vanderbilt, the two freshmen once again must carry the running game against a Commodores defense that ranks 10th in the SEC against the run by allowing 168.5 yards per game.
Obviously a healthy Gurley would provide a lift to Georgia's offense, but the Bulldogs don't seem to be afraid of the prospect of more Green and Douglas until Gurley returns.
“They've been preparing for their whole life,” senior receiver Rantavious Wooten said. “Even in practice, they've been put in position to make plays and do what they need to do for the offense. At the end of the day, you never know when your number's going to be called. I definitely feel like some young guys are ready for that role whenever their number's called, but it didn't turn out in our favor [against Missouri].”