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.