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Georgia faces crisis at receiver

Now, with the SEC East title on the line, Georgia has to find out if it can move the ball without two of the top three receivers.

Georgia has proved it can survive the loss of one of its top three receivers — Terrence Edwards, Fred Gibson and Damien Gary.

Now, with the SEC East title on the line, Georgia has to find out if it can move the ball without two of the top three.

As if to highlight the toll injuries have taken on the receiving corps, the lone healthy member of the trio is Gibson, but he will still be wearing a cast on his left hand when No. 7 Georgia visits Auburn.

The game at Auburn next Saturday will be televised by CBS with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff, the network announced Sunday.

Coach Mark Richt said Sunday that initial concerns following Saturday night's 31-17 win over Mississippi had been confirmed: Edwards suffered a separated left shoulder and is expected to miss three to six weeks.

Also, linebacker Boss Bailey is considered questionable for the Auburn game with a sprained knee.

The injuries could rob Georgia (9-1 overall, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) of its leading receiver and leading tackler in its most important regular-season game in recent memory. Georgia must beat Auburn to guarantee its spot in the Dec. 7 SEC championship game in Atlanta.

Edwards, a senior, leads Georgia with 47 receptions for 804 yards and 10 touchdowns. He caught five passes for 90 yards and a touchdown before his injury. Gary is recovering from an acute compartment syndrome injury to his left leg. Gary may return in time for a bowl game.

How will Georgia make up for the injuries at receiver? One option is to become more of a run-oriented offense.

Against Ole Miss, Musa Smith rushed for 148 yards and proved strong enough to carry the ball 37 times.

After watching his offense stay on the field for the final 10:46 Saturday night, Richt may be tempted to lean more heavily on his running game against Auburn.

Richt's decision will be affected by the realization that Ole Miss has struggled to stop the run this season. With so much on the line against Auburn, Richt may be wary of making dramatic changes to his offensive philosophy so late in the season.

"I don't know what to do right now,'' Richt admitted Sunday. "We've got some problems there at receiver.''

The one encouraging factor was the dramatic return of Gibson. After missing two games following surgery on his left thumb, Gibson caught four passes for 97 yards and a touchdown and returned three kickoffs for 95 yards.

Gibson provided a reminder that his quickness had been missed; he abused an Ole Miss defensive back with a spin move on a 17-yard scoring pass from David Greene. Gibson's speed enabled him to return his first kickoff 44 yards and to catch a 53-yard bomb.

Gibson now must be the lead receiver, even with the cast, and Michael Johnson and Reggie Brown must play bigger roles. The loss of Edwards also will provide an opportunity for freshmen Bryan McClendon and Mario Raley to step up in practice this week.

"Maybe these guys can prove something,'' Richt said. McClendon caught one pass for 18 yards Saturday night and could start against Auburn.

Neither Brown nor Johnson caught a pass against Ole Miss, but Brown showed a glimpse of his potential when he caught five passes for 52 yards against Kentucky — Georgia's first game without Gibson.

Richt said it was not believed surgery would be needed for Bailey's sprained knee. Georgia already had adjusted at linebacker the last two games after starter Chris Clemons was lost with a sprained ankle. Clemons returned to play a backup role against Ole Miss, and if he can start this week he likely would take Bailey's spot.

Redshirt freshman Thomas Davis has started the last two games for Clemons. If Bailey can't return, Davis would start against Auburn. Freshman walk-on linebacker Jamario Smith took over for Bailey Saturday night. "Until we attempt any kind of practice, I won't have any real feel for how (Bailey) is doing,'' Richt said.

"We thought when it happened it wasn't severe. I'm sure he's going to try everything in his power to be there.''


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