ATHENS, Ga. (AP) – Back-to-back home victories over Tennessee and Vanderbilt have helped push No. 13 Georgia back into the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division race.
Georgia, led by star tailback Todd Gurley, now must win on the road to remain a contender.
The Bulldogs begin a grueling stretch of four straight SEC games away from home with Saturday’s visit to No. 23 Missouri, the defending East champion. Then Georgia flies west again for a game at Arkansas. The stretch also includes the annual neutral-site game against Florida in Jacksonville, Florida, and a visit to Kentucky.
The Bulldogs have lost their only road game thus far, at South Carolina. If Georgia can survive the travel grind, the reward will be three home games to chase a spot in the SEC title game to close the regular season.
Coach Mark Richt said he is worried about the back-to-back trips to Missouri and Arkansas, though Georgia received some help with Sunday’s announcement the Missouri game has been set for a noon EST kickoff. That will allow the Bulldogs to return to Athens Saturday night instead of early Sunday morning.
"The next two travel games … could be tough," Richt said. "I’m not as concerned about (the travel from) Arkansas, because after that we have an open date. But Missouri and Arkansas, just as far as travel is concerned, could be tough on our guys."
Richt said playing four straight games away from Athens "is going to be different."
Missouri (4-1) is 1-0 in the SEC East. Georgia (4-1) is one of three teams tied for second at 2-1. Kentucky and Florida also are 2-1.
Georgia has three straight wins since losing at South Carolina.
"We feel great about what we’re doing," said receiver Chris Conley, who had two touchdown catches in the 44-17 win over Vanderbilt. "We feel good that we’re getting better each week. In order to get back (to the SEC championship game) we have to get better each week and that starts in practice."
Richt acknowledged there are advantages to playing at home and on the road.
"I like being at home because you have our fans and … when the game is over you tend to have a little time at the house, which is nice to be a normal guy for a minute. I like all those things. Recruiting is awesome because you’ve got to recruit, but it’s one more thing to think about besides the game.
"On the away games, you focus strictly on football. You don’t have to do much of anything else, which is kind of nice, too."
The constant for Georgia has been Gurley, who ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. Gurley added a surprise when he completed a 50-yard pass – Georgia’s longest completion of the season.
Gurley’s running is the strength that could give Georgia the boost it needs on the road.
Richt said Georgia’s offensive philosophy is simple: Give Gurley the ball.
"I think just good things happen when you give it to Todd, so I think we should probably just keep giving it to him," Richt said. "That’s kind of where we’re at now."
Richt said he’s even had to steer away from the conventional approach of taking what the defense gives Georgia. With support from freshmen tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Georgia is leaning on its running game. Chubb had 78 yards rushing with a touchdown against Vanderbilt. Michel (shoulder) and Keith Marshall (ankle) did not play.
"There is definitely a concerted effort to not throw the ball every time it looks like they’re rolling a safety down in the box," Richt said. "We’re just going to flat-out run it anyway, because we’re blocking well and Todd and Chubb and Sony before he got hurt, all those guys have been playing good."
NOTE: Freshman defensive back Shaquille Jones of Palm Bay, Florida, has been dismissed from the team. Richt said Sunday that Jones, who had not appeared in a game, failed to meet "certain expectations and standards that we require of all our players." No further details were provided.
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