Debate: Which SEC East Team Suffered Most From Injuries?
By Joe Jenkins
We all know the cliché: Injuries are part of football. If you're not prepared to have a player or two step up over the course of a season, then you're really not prepared at all.
What's happened in the SEC East this season has been borderline cruel. Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt have all had to navigate stretches this season without their starting quarterbacks.
Georgia and Florida, however, are digging deeper into the depth charts than anyone would have ever expected.
The impacts of these injures have created something of a train wreck in the SEC standings and what amounts to a lost season for the Gators and Bulldogs.
But who had it the worst? Who fell the hardest?
Our SEC experts Craig Stephens and Chris Stephens (no relation) weigh in to debate which team really left their championship hopes on the trainers table.
The Case For Florida (Craig Stephens)
When comparing the depth charts from opening day to now, the Gators look like a different team. The sheer volume of season-ending injuries is absurd. The Gators have had nine of their 22 opening-day starters miss significant amounts of time and in total, these nine starters have missed 44 combined games this season.
The offense has faced the brunt of the brutality, losing six starters this season. Six! That’s over half of the offense! These injuries have come to key players as well. Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel has missed seven games, starting running back Matt Jones has missed five, starting wide receiver Andre Debose has missed the entire season, and linemen D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green and Tyler Moore have missed a combined 13 games. These injuries sunk the offense and dried up all of Florida’s options.
Jones was supposed to be the feature back of a run-heavy offense, but when he was recovering from a virus early in the year, the Gators leaned on Driskel and the passing game, even though he was missing his No. 1 receiver. Then, when Jones came back, Driskel went down, forcing Florida to run the ball against defenses stacking the line of scrimmage. The team managed to scrape together some points, but then Jones was lost for the season.
So what happens when your back-up quarterback is throwing to back-up receivers or handing off to a back-up running back against a shaky back-up offensive line? You lose. That’s what happens.
The injuries have not been as devastating on defense, only causing three starters to miss a combined nine games. Linebackers Antonio Morrison (now out for the season) and Ronald Powell have only missed one game apiece. But the defensive injuries are worth discussing because of Dominique Easley’s torn ACL. It is simply bad luck to only lose one player on defense for most of the year, but having that injury strike your best defensive player. Easley stood out amid a talented Florida defense, and the run defense slipped significantly after his departure. The pass rush slowed some because opposing offensive lines didn’t have to double- and triple-team him. Even with the injuries, the defense has remained the strength of Florida’s team, but that says more about the offense than the defense. Easley’s injury limited the Gators’ defense and changed them from an elite unit to a pretty good one.
The Case For Georgia (Chris Stephens)
Injuries have been commonplace all season for the Georgia Bulldogs. Whether it’s freak ankle injuries or season-ending knee injuries, the Bulldogs have experienced it all with opening-day starters missing a total of 31 games in 2013.
None have been hit harder than players at the Bulldogs’ skill positions. The Bulldogs have had just about every skill-position starter miss time due to injury. Luckily, the offensive and defensive lines have been spared, with only one defensive starter missing time.
Here’s a list:
- RB Todd Gurley: 3 games
- RB Keith Marshall: 5 games and counting
- WR Malcolm Mitchell: 9 games and counting
- WR Justin-Scott Wesley: 5 games and counting
- WR Chris Conley: 2 games
- WR Michael Bennett: 2 games
- TE Arthur Lynch: 1 game
- S Tray Matthews: 4 games
Mitchell’s knee injury was the one that hurt the most as it came against Clemson when he was celebrating a Gurley touchdown run. It was one of those freak accidents that hurt the Bulldogs from the beginning.
Georgia’s defensive problems haven’t been because of injury, but because of how young the unit is. Coming into the year, most experts knew they were going to give up a fair amount of points.
On the other hand, the offense was expected to be able to put up points in bunches every game. But with the injuries, especially to Gurley and Marshall, backups were thrust into starting roles and performed admirably.
However, in losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, turnovers by those replacements hurt the Bulldogs. Brendan Douglas had key fumbles in losses to both the Tigers and the Commodores. Without those fumbles, things might have turned out differently.
If Gurley and/or Marshall weren’t hurt, the Bulldogs wouldn’t have lost those games. Having Gurley and Marshall on the field is a game-changer.
There's no winner here. Not when it comes to injuries. Both teams have had to deal with starters missing a total of 75 games this season. It's too much for any team to endure.
In the end, Georgia had the relative luxury of weathering the injury storm with its bonafide leader and most important player, quarterback Aaron Murray. The Dawgs have also been fortunate enough to get some of their key players back as the season has worn on.
The Gators, on the other hand, are still an injury or two away from having to pull the most athletic-looking kid out of the student section and suiting him up.
Through it all, Georgia has managed to at least remain competitive this season. The same can't be said for Florida. Craig Stephens said it best when he told me that "injuries have decapitated a promising Florida season."
In the battle for which team lost the most due to injury, Florida wins by the tip of a surgeon's scalpel.