SEC teams coping with injuries to key players

Playing football in the Southeastern Conference is taking its
toll on teams.

Injuries could keep South Carolina’s starting quarterback and
one of Georgia’s star running backs on the sideline Saturday.
Florida already lost its starting QB and best defensive player to
season-ending injuries in one week.

Top-ranked Alabama is breaking in a new center.

Sure, all teams preach the ”next man up” mantra, but there’s a
reason a player starts.

Backups have turned in admirable performances, but losing
talented starters – even temporarily – hurts because the skills
they possess are not easily replaced by simply turning to the next
guy on the depth chart.

The Gamecocks hope QB Connor Shaw can get back in the lineup
this weekend, and the Bulldogs wouldn’t mind seeing Todd Gurley in
the backfield.

Georgia coach Mark Richt considers Gurley day-to-day for
Saturday’s game at Tennessee, even though the SEC’s third-leading
rusher hasn’t practiced after spraining his left ankle in the
sixth-ranked Bulldogs’ win over No. 10 LSU.

”He was supposed to be on crutches,” Richt said, ”but I
looked out the window and watched him walking with his crutches
over his shoulder, so I don’t know if that’s a tell-tale sign.
Hopefully it won’t be too long.”

If Gurley can’t go, Georgia will look to Keith Marshall and
freshmen Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green. Gurley is averaging 112.5
yards per game for the Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0), but Richt has faith
that Marshall can handle 15 to 20 carries and that his other backs
can contribute in the short term.

”When you’ve got great players playing great, that gives your
team more confidence,” Richt said. ”But we’ve got some other
really good players that’ll try to prove they’re great ones
too.”

Dylan Thompson is prepared to lead 13th-ranked South Carolina
against Kentucky, but Shaw could start after showing marked
improvement from a sprained right shoulder sustained at Central
Florida. Originally expected to miss two to three weeks, Shaw
practiced Monday and Tuesday and Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier
watched his QB throw 60-yard passes.

”He was out throwing the ball around very well and should be
ready to play Saturday night,” said Spurrier, adding that backup
tailback Brandon Wilds is out about a month with a dislocated
elbow.

Perhaps no SEC school has been hit harder by injuries than No.
18 Florida (3-1, 2-0).

In a four-day span last week the Gators lost defensive tackle
Dominique Easley to a right knee injury in practice after
quarterback Jeff Driskel went down for the year, breaking his right
leg against Tennessee.

Those devastating injuries follow the losses of right tackle
Chaz Green (torn labrum) and a left ACL tear by receiver Andre
Debose, one of the SEC’s top kick returners, in fall practice.

”It was a heartbreaker,” said Gators senior defensive tackle
Damien Jacobs, Easley’s roommate. ”It was probably one of the
worst things I’ve been through, just losing him and losing that
presence.”

Still, the reserves have been getting it done.

Driskel’s injury thrust Tyler Murphy into action and the
redshirt junior has responded by leading Florida past Tennessee and
Kentucky with the same running and passing abilities that made his
predecessor a dual threat. The Gators are looking to Jacobs, junior
Leon Orr, Darious Cummings and Jay-nard Bostwick to fill the gap
defensively in Easley’s absence.

The injuries haven’t forced Florida coach Will Muschamp to
change his game plan, which he said speaks volumes about the
program’s depth.

”When guys go down, we expect our competition level to stay the
same,” he said, noting his QBs’ similarities. ”There’s some
carry-over in what they do, and that helps us. It certainly helps
(offensive coordinator) Brent Pease as a play-caller to have a
similar skill set at the quarterback position.”

Alabama junior Chad Lindsay maintained the status quo at center
for the Crimson Tide (4-0, 2-0) against No. 24 Ole Miss when he
replaced sophomore Ryan Kelly, out at least two games with a knee
injury.

”On the first play of the game, (Lindsay’s) eyes were wide open
and I could just tell he was nervous,” Alabama guard Anthony Steen
said, ”but the second and third play he was fine and after a
couple of plays I didn’t miss a beat with Chad than I would with
Kelly. He seemed to do fine to me.”

Tennessee coach Butch Jones said players have to be ready. There
are no excuses, especially in a league that has won seven
consecutive national championships.

Said Jones, ”We’re banged up, but you know what? That’s
football.”

AP Sports Writers Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla.; Charles Odum
in Athens, Ga.; Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C.; John Zenor in
Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn.; David
Brandt in Oxford, Miss.; and Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn.,
contributed to this report.