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Missouri understands what Georgia is going through

COLUMBIA — It’s a plight to which Missouri can certainly relate.

After suffering a rash of injuries in their debut season in the Southeastern Conference a year ago, the Tigers know exactly how the banged-up Georgia Bulldogs are feeling heading into Saturday’s matchup of ranked teams (11 a.m., ESPN-TV).

“I don’t wish that on anybody,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said.

Missouri limped to a 5-7 record in 2012, in part due to health issues with starting quarterback James Franklin, a whole year without running back Henry Josey and a decimation of the offensive line.

Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC), currently ranked No. 7 in both polls, looks to avoid a similar swoon after being hit with a deluge of injuries during its 34-31 overtime victory Saturday at Tennessee.

Running back Keith Marshall, second on the Bulldogs with 246 rushing yards, tore his ACL and is done for the season. The same can be said for wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, who is second on the team with 311 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Another wide receiver, Michael Bennett, is out for Saturday’s game against Missouri with a knee injury. To make matters worse, punter Collin Barber left last Saturday’s game early with a concussion.

That list doesn’t even include Georgia’s top running back, Todd Gurley, who missed the Tennessee game with an ankle injury and is listed as doubtful for this Saturday. The sophomore back has amassed 450 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the young season. Add in Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia’s top returning receiver from last season, who will miss the entire season with an ACL injury.

“Gurley’s a great player,” Pinkel said. “All their backs are good. Shoot, all their young players, their freshmen are good players. They recruit well. I wouldn’t feel real sorry for them. I wouldn’t go that far. I say that kiddingly because I’ve known (Georgia head coach) Mark (Richt) for a while and I have great respect for him. Nobody likes to go through injuries. Some positions you can handle more than others based on your depth.”

Added Missouri defensive lineman Lucas Vincent: “Whenever somebody’s top two running backs are out, it’s always a good time to play them. We know how it is. It’s not a good place to be.”

Georgia didn’t seem to miss a beat after those stars went down against Tennessee.

After seeing limited action in Georgia’s first four games, freshman tailback J.J. Green stepped in and rushed 17 times for 129 yards. The injury-depleted Bulldog offense still racked up 434 total yards.

“They have good athletes,” Pinkel said. “They might be a little less experienced in some ways, but I think they have good depth. If you happen to have great depth at a place where you’re getting the injuries, then it’s not going to hurt you as much.”

It certainly helps that Georgia has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in senior Aaron Murray. The signal-caller broke the record for career passing yards in SEC history during the Tennessee game, sitting at 11,625, and led a last-minute comeback against the Volunteers without a few of his top targets.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Pinkel said. “He’ll help that whole situation for them.”

While it might seem Missouri is catching Georgia at the right time, a couple Tigers don’t view it that way.

“Not necessarily. If you want to be the best, you want to play the best,” Franklin said. “Somebody said it’s good that they have some injuries, but we want them to be healthy. We want their best players out there so it’s not one of those things where people can make an excuse for something if we do get a win.”

Tigers defensive lineman Markus Golden reiterated that sentiment, but added Missouri can’t take Georgia for granted, even with all the injuries.

“Of course we can take advantage of it, but we feel like it’s football. You never know if those guys could come in and be just as good or better than the other guys,” he said. “We want their best players, we want to go against whoever they’ve got on the field. We’ll be ready.”

It’s a reversal of roles heading into Saturday’s matchup. Pinkel hopes it stays that way, at least for his squad.

“We are healthy for the most part on our whole football team, knock on wood,” he said.

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