Richt still kicking himself about kickoff

Mark Richt's faith is well-documented, and part of any such belief system is the ability to forgive.

This time around, though, the Georgia head coach can't do it just yet.

He was still figuratively kicking himself Sunday afternoon for leaving wide receiver/kick returner Fred Gibson on the field in the final minutes of Georgia's 29-10 win over Middle Tennessee State.

On the kickoff following MTSU's only touchdown with barely mor than two minutes left in the game, Gibson apparently pulled a hamstring on the return, pulling up before he was hit.

Had Richt come to terms with the fact that Gibson was still in there?

"Not yet," he said Sunday afternoon.

Richt admitted that he got a little too enthusiastic.

"I'm like, 'Let's take it to the house,'" Richt said.

Now, Georgia will take it to the field Saturday against South Carolina (3:30 p.m., CBS) with Gibson on the sidelines. How long Gibson will be out is still undetermined, for Richt said director of sports medicine Ron Courson hadn't yet completely determined that the injury is a pulled hamstring.

"Fred's gimping around," said Richt. "We'll find out more (today)."

As Gibson goes out, two more receivers - as well as two defensive backs - return to action as suspensions are lifted. Wideouts Bryan McClendon and Mario Raley will now get a few more snaps after sitting for two games.

But with almost eerie timing, Reggie Brown had a confidence-building game, one that made him and the staff feel good.

"Reggie stepped up with Fred being there," said Richt after a question on increasing Brown's role with Gibson out. "We were really excited with what Reggie did."

Brown caught a career-high seven passes for 88 yards, but also turned in a good blocking performance. Freshman Sean Bailey's role will grow as well.

Also returning from suspension are cornerbacks Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter, both of whom should see plenty of action. Richt will talk with secondary coach Willie Martinez about how those two fit into the rotation, but guessed that Jennings would be the top nickel back

The Bulldogs will also have a healthy Ben Watson, Josh Brock, and Marcus Jackson. The tight end (ankle), guard (knee), and defensive end (thumb) sat out the MTSU game but will be back for USC. As for defensive tackle Ken Veal (ankle), safety Kentrell Curry (leg), and end Marquis Elmore (ankle), Richt said the three have "an outside chance" to play.

Richt said the offense did a better job with assignments than against Clemson, but the massive number of penalties - a school-record 18 - all but overshadowed that, meaning this week will have plenty of conditioning.

And the offensive backfield has become a battle.

Starting tailback Tony Milton continues to battle a bruise below his knee, an injury that increasingly appears worse than originally diagnosed. Milton broke a bone below the same knee, and Richt said some calcium deposits had built up, making the area tender, especially when hit by a helmet. That happened again Saturday.

"I don't know if this is something that's going to stay as a chronic problem, or if it's something that if we can keep it from getting hit awhile, it'll go away. I just feel bad for him. I know Tony is a very tough person. He has a high tolerance for pain, so I know this is really hurting."

But redshirt freshman Michael Cooper stepped into the top role with 90 yards on 12 carries, Milton having to settle for seven rushing attempts. Richt said freshman Kregg Lumpkin is in as good a shape as he's been in since camp start and is expected to play Saturday.

"Cooper has really improved his lot in life, I guess you could say," Richt offered. "He's running very well. He didn't have many blocking opportunities in blitz pick-up. (But) even in practice, he's much more in tune to what to do.

"He's definitely competing for the starting job. It's a legitimate race, I would have to say right now."

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