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All is not well with Georgia football

    ATHENS — Georgia found itself in an unusual position Sunday: Unranked and trying to bounce back from a loss to Vanderbilt.
    Instead of setting his sights on another Southeastern Conference championship, coach Mark Richt is aiming lower. Even though the race appears to be wide open after Florida’s first loss, the stumbling Bulldogs are focused on winning a game — not winning another title.
    ‘‘We can’t think that way right now,’’ Richt said. ‘‘We really have to concentrate on just one thing, and that’s trying to win a football game. If we happen to do that, maybe we can start dreaming again.’’
    Georgia (5-2, 2-2 SEC) fell out of The Associated Press rankings for the first time since September 2001 — Richt’s debut season — after a stunning 24-22 loss to the Commodores, who kicked a field goal with two seconds remaining to pull off the upset.
    If that wasn’t bad enough, the Bulldogs are dealing with several injuries. Richt confirmed that starting tailback Thomas Brown, the team’s leading rusher the last two seasons, will miss the rest of the year after tearing a ligament in his right knee.
    Since it can take up to a year to recover from such a serious injury, Brown could be redshirted in 2007 if he’s going to miss significant time at the start of the season. The junior would still have a year of eligibility remaining.
    Tight end Martrez Milner (turf toe) and offensive guard Chester Adams (sprained ankle) are doubtful for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are more hopeful that center Nick Jones (sprained knee) will be able to play; if not, there’s hardly any depth on the offensive line.
    Of course, Mississippi State (2-5, 0-3) is probably the worst team in the SEC, so even a short-handed Georgia team should be able to snap its two-game losing streak. Then again, no one expected the Bulldogs to lose to Vandy for the first time since 1994.
    ‘‘Every loss is disappointing, I don’t care who it is,’’ Richt said. ‘‘But the bottom line is: We’re going to play the entire season and see where this goes. There’s a lot of football to be played.’’
    He added hopefully, ‘‘If I thought we were hitting on all cylinders and lost two games like these, maybe I would be thinking more (losses) are on the way. That would be disappointing. But I really think we can get this going in the right direction. The only way to do that is to get a victory this week.’’
    While the talk shows and Internet sites buzzed with criticism of Richt’s play-calling, the head coach insisted that the game plan is working just fine. He put the blame on a lack of execution and a dearth of big plays.
    ‘‘We need somebody to rise of the occasion and make a play,’’ Richt said. ‘‘We’ve just not had that many playmakers making plays. Think of how many plays have just been the usual throw and catch. We’ve not had many people make a great play.’’
    Much of the attention has been on the quarterback position, but the Bulldogs clearly have other issues.
    The offensive line hasn’t created enough holes. No one has emerged as a take-charge tailback (even before Brown was hurt). The receivers have dropped far too many passes. Defensive ends Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson aren’t getting enough pressure on the opposing quarterback. Tony Taylor is the only linebacker having a standout year. There’s no big-hitting safety in the mold of Thomas Davis, Greg Blue or Sean Jones to provide momentum-changing plays. Plus, the loss of star kicker Brandon Coutu to a season-ending hamstring injury turned a strength into a liability.
    On Saturday, replacement kicker Andy Bailey missed a 38-yard field goal that could have given the Bulldogs a four-point lead and forced Vanderbilt to go for a touchdown on its final possession. Instead, the Commodores were able to win with a field goal.
    The defense, which played so well through the first five games, struggled the last two weeks. Tennessee became only the second visiting team to score 50 points at Sanford Stadium, rallying from 17 points down for a 51-33 victory. Vanderbilt drove 65 yards in the final five minutes for its winning field goal, keeping the drive alive with a 14-yard pass on third down and a 6-yard completion on fourth-and-5.
    Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez will certainly come under more scrutiny if the Bulldogs fail to turn things around.
    ‘‘Since I’ve been here, this is the most talented defense we’ve had,’’ Taylor said. ‘‘We’ve all got to look at ourselves in the mirror. We’ve all got to pull together and play better team defense.’’

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