FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Even without Todd Gurley, Georgia established itself as the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference's East Division with a shutout victory over Missouri.
The No. 10 Bulldogs, with Gurley understudy Nick Chubb likely getting the call again, finally venture into the vaunted West on Saturday. They will be going for their fifth straight win when they face Arkansas (3-3, 0-3 SEC) in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.
Gurley, the SEC's top running back and a Heisman hopeful — at least before his indefinite suspension last week for alleged rules violations — doesn't appear any closer to returning. That was the word from Georgia coach Mark Richt via his Twitter feed Thursday.
Without Gurley, the Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1) fared just fine in last week's 34-0 win over the Tigers — a win in which Georgia intercepted Maty Mauk four times and held the Missouri to 147 total yards on 43 plays.
It was perhaps the most complete performance by the Bulldogs this season, even if their most complete player didn't see the field. And it's an effort they expect to repeat against the Razorbacks.
"We are not a one-man team, so we had a chip on our shoulder," Georgia tight end Jay Rome said. "We're going to play for Georgia, and we're going to play for Todd."
Following an SEC-opening loss at South Carolina, the Bulldogs have won four straight games — including three straight over East opponents to take control of the division. Georgia will have to overcome its first West opponent on the season to win a fifth in a row on Saturday, facing a much-improved Arkansas which has fallen on hard luck in recent weeks.
After showing signs of progress in Bret Bielema's second season as coach with a dominating wins over Texas Tech and Northern Illinois, the Razorbacks have squandered fourth-quarter leads in losses to Texas A&M and Alabama in their last two games.
Arkansas has lost 15 SEC games in a row dating back to the 2012 season, but its improved play has the full attention of Richt — even if he dismissed the significance of a of facing at step up in competition against the West, where all but the Razorbacks and LSU are ranked.
"There's only one game that matters the most: when the eastern division champion plays the western division champion," Richt said.
Other factors to watch on Saturday as the uncertainty surrounding Gurley's status remains: