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Texas A&M Football

SEC Round-Up: Loss of Bowers reduces No. 1 Georgia's margin for error

October 19, 2023
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Last week in Nashville, Georgia sustained its worst football loss since falling to Alabama, 41-24, in the 2021 SEC Championship game.

No, Georgia did not lose to Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs easily beat the Commodores, 37-20.

But in that game, All-American tight end Brock Bowers suffered an ankle injury that required surgery and will sideline him for at least four weeks.

That’s a loss that could prevent the Bulldogs from winning a third consecutive national championship. Bowers is that good.

Of course, Georgia coach Kirby Smart repeated the “next man up” mantra. That’s sophomore Oscar Delp. And maybe additional help could come from freshman Monroe Freeling, an offensive lineman who could shift to tight end, or Lawson Luckie.

“I don’t know when it’s going to be, but it’s going to be a Monroe Freeling or a Lawson Luckie moment where a kid’s got to go in and play,” Smart said earlier this week. “It’s coming. We just don’t know who. I tell the guys all the time; there’s 22, 44 players — twos and threes — that we’ve got to get every single rep we can for them so they’re prepared for this stretch run of five games (that’s) going to be physical and tough. We may or may not be playing with a full deck. We’ve got to go get better.”

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A two-time national champion, Bowers also won the 2022 Mackey award as the nation’s top tight end.

Fortunately, Smart has an open week to get his tight ends ready to face arch-rival Florida on Oct. 28.

Yet, even if Delp, Freeling and Luckie prove ready, the Bulldogs can’t be feeling lucky.

The next man (men) just isn’t as good as Bowers, who may be the best player in college football.

Bowers has caught 41 passes for 567 yards and four touchdowns. However, those impressive statistics don’t begin to illustrate the impact Bowers makes on the field. Earlier this year, he saved the Bulldogs from a massive upset.

He had eight catches for 157 yards and a 40-yard touchdown with 2:52 remaining as Georgia escaped Auburn, 27-20.

His receptions, though, are only one aspect of his impact. He’s also a good blocker and draws coverage away from other receivers.

With him sidelined, opponents, at least theoretically, can adjust coverage to focus more on receivers Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Dominic Lovett and Ladd McConkey.

They’re all good. Georgia isn’t as good without Bowers, though.

The Bulldogs have already struggled to beat Auburn and South Carolina, which have combined for five wins.

Tougher opponents remain. Along with Florida, the Bulldogs schedule includes No. 20 Missouri, No. 13 Ole Miss and No. 17 Tennessee on the road.

Georgia likely will be favored in all those games. But the margin of error is reduced significantly without Bowers.

Around the SEC

This week’s games: Mississippi State at Arkansas; No. 17 Tennessee at No. 11 Alabama; South Carolina at No. 20 Missouri; No. 13 Ole Miss at Auburn; Army at No. 19 LSU

Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK
Jaylen Wright leads the Volunteer rushing attack with 583 yards. However, he has only scored one rushing touchdown. Dylan Sampson has scored six times.

Who’s hot: Tennessee's running game is on a roll. In the last three games against Texas-San Antonio, South Carolina and Texas A&M, the Volunteers have compiled 773 rushing yards. That’s an average of 257.6 per game. The Vols have scored seven rushing touchdowns in that span. Running back Dylan Sampson led the way against UTSA with 139 yards. Jaylen Wright had 123 against South Carolina and 136 against A&M. Overall, the Vols average 231.3 rushing yards to lead the SEC and are ranked sixth nationally.

Who’s not: It’s getting difficult to remember that Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne passed for 5,911 yards and 46 touchdowns over the previous two seasons. Of course, that was at Michigan State. At Auburn, he has thrown for just 745 yards in six games. The last three have been particularly futile. In that span against Texas A&M, Georgia and LSU, Thorne has completed 28 of 54 attempts (52 percent) for 228 years and no touchdowns with one interception. Woof.

Keep an eye on: Looking for an individual with the potential to have a huge statistical outburst this week? Look no further than Missouri quarterback Brady Cook. So far this season, Cook has passed for 2,054 yards and 14 touchdowns. True, he has benefitted from facing weak defenses. Five opponents ranked 102nd or worse in pass defense. Another was FBS South Dakota State. But Cook next faces South Carolina, which is ranked 133rd — dead last — in pass defense. Two of the last three quarterbacks to face South Carolina (Mississippi State’s Will Rogers and Florida’s Graham Mertz) threw for more than 400 yards. Expect Cook to make it three out of four.

The pressure is on: Just two years ago, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman was the most popular man in town. Now, frustrated Razorbacks want to run him out of town. The calls for Pittman’s ouster are growing louder. Since a 9-4 showing in 2021, the Razorbacks are 9-11. That includes a current five-game losing streak which drops Arkansas to 2-5 this year. To be fair, four of the Hogs’ losses have been by a touchdown or less. (Sound familiar?) Anyway, the remaining schedule gets easier with Mississippi State this week, Florida, Auburn, Florida International and Missouri awaiting. That provides a legitimate chance to get six wins required for bowl eligibility. But if the Razorbacks fail, Pittman could be on his way out.

Best matchup: As previously mentioned, Tennessee’s running game leads the SEC. The Volunteers face a stern test against Alabama, which has allowed just 731 rushing yards in seven games to rank third in the SEC. Three of Alabama’s last four opponents managed 100 yards or less on the ground. Last year, the Vols beat Alabama. They’ll likely have to win at the line of scrimmage to win on the scoreboard.

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SEC Round-Up: Loss of Bowers reduces No. 1 Georgia's margin for error

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