ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia not only lost the game. The No. 19 Bulldogs also will be without a key defensive player for at least a month.
Coach Mark Richt confirmed Sunday that inside linebacker Alec Ogletree will undergo surgery on an injured right foot. The sophomore’s expected recovery time is four-to-six weeks.
The loss is a big blow for a team lacking experience and depth at that position in its 3-4 defense. Ogletree was backed up by freshman Amario Herrera.
“I’m sure he’s crushed right now,” Richt said of Ogletree, who will have surgery Monday. “He loves to play the game. He was playing outstanding football, inspired football.”
The Bulldogs (0-1) will have to recover quickly from a 35-21 loss to fifth-ranked Boise State. They host No. 12 South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference opener next Saturday.
Georgia will likely fall out of the rankings when the new Associated Press poll is released today.
“We know we’re a good team and that we’ll be able to bounce back,” said defensive back Brandon Boykin, who went 80 yards for a touchdown against the Broncos on the first offensive carry of his career. “I told the guys, ‘We have a whole season. We can’t put our heads down because there’s still a long ways to go.’”
After facing a top Heisman contender, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, the Bulldogs will now try to stop South Carolina’s star runner Marcus Lattimore. Last season, he carried 37 times for 182 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-6 victory over Georgia.
Losing Ogletree will certainly make it tougher to stop the bruising back.
“You can tackle a guy, but he’ll get a couple of yards after contact. Or you can tackle a guy and stop him in his tracks,” Richt said. “We’ve got to get our guys making tackles so they don’t get yards after contact. But there’s probably not a better back in the nation than Lattimore at doing that. It’s a tremendous challenge for us.”
The Bulldogs’ defense will get a boost from the return of starting safety Bacarri Rambo, who was suspended from the opener for violating team rules. Carlton Thomas, the team’s most experienced running back, also will be back on the field after serving a one-game suspension.
Georgia jumped out to an early lead on Boise State with Boykin’s surprising run, but the Bulldogs couldn’t build on that momentum. Many of the same issues from last year’s 6-7 team cropped up again, including penalties and an inconsistent running game. Plus, the Bulldogs didn’t get much pressure on Moore, while Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray took a fearsome beating.
Murray was sacked six times and hit on plenty of other plays.
Richt said he was particularly troubled by the way the Bulldogs failed to provide adequate blocking for Murray on third down, even when they went with maximum-protection schemes. They converted only 2 of 13 chances on third down, and went 1 of 4 on fourth down.
“That’s where you’ve got to make first down to keep drives going, to put yourself in field-goal range, to give yourself a chance to score touchdowns,” Richt said. “We just didn’t do a good job in that area. Even when Murray got the ball off, he had people breathing down his neck and hitting him after he cut the ball loose.”
Georgia also lost starting left guard Kenarious Gates (left leg) in the first half, but his prognosis was much better than Ogletree’s. Richt expects the freshman to play against South Carolina. If not, sophomore Dallas Lee would get the starting nod.
The Bulldogs will need all hands on deck against the Gamecocks, because this is a game that will have a major impact on the SEC East race — and, perhaps, Richt’s job security. Georgia fans won’t settle for another losing season, and an 0-2 start would put even more heat on the 11th-year coach.
Richt insists he’s not worried about his future employment and pointed out that there’s plenty of time to have a successful season.
“We’re going to have to get a lot better,” he said. “But I also know that everybody is 0-0 in league play. Our goal is to win the Eastern Division. That doesn’t change.”