The Georgia Bulldogs have suffered a substantial blow just days before what might be their biggest game of the season.
Mark Richt and Co. will have to face South Carolina -- and every other team remaining on their schedule -- without the services of leading receiver Michael Bennett, who tore his ACL in practice Tuesday, the school announced Wednesday (as reported by the Macon Telegraph). Bennett will miss the remainder of the 2012 season.
Through five games, the redshirt sophomore wideout had collected 24 catches, 345 receiving yards, and four touchdowns --all team highs.
Bennett took to Twitter to offer this message:
God has a plan for me and everything happens for a reason. Get ready for a historic season Dawg nation. Our boys are gonna get it done!— Michael Bennett (@MBennett_82) October 3, 2012
If there's any good news for Georgia, it's that the wide receiver position is one of the deeper ones on the Bulldog roster. Tavarres King and Marlon Brown have 16 receptions apiece already, and 2011 second-leading receiver Malcolm Mitchell appears to be refocusing on offense after starting the year in Richt's suspension-plagued defensive backfield. Receiver Rantavious Wooten and tight ends Jay Rome and Arthur Lynch are all viable targets, too.
But that's not to say the loss of Bennett -- particularly on short notice ahead of the game that could very well decide the SEC East and even help shape the national title race -- isn't a major one. Quarterback Aaron Murray has relied on Bennett as a kind of security blanket over his two seasons (Bennett's 10.0 and 14.38 yards-per-reception numbers from 2011 and 2012 are well below King's and Brown's). But Bennett has shown a knack for producing big plays at critical times of big games, including his two third-quarter touchdowns when Georgia retook the lead in last week's win over Tennessee. Against Florida in 2011, Bennett scored on a fourth-and-five touchdown just before halftime.
If Mitchell can return from his defensive sojourn to anything like his form of 2011, the Bulldogs should be fine. But "fine" doesn't necessarily mean "good" -- and certainly not as good as they were before Bennett went down.