Injured Dawgs limp into homestretch

Updated: October 28, 2003, 7:57 PM ET

ATHENS, Ga. -- If this keeps up, Georgia might have trouble finding enough players to finish the season.

The fourth-ranked Bulldogs (7-1) have been dealt a staggering array of injuries, forcing coach Mark Richt to get creative and leaving the players to wonder if they'll have enough bodies to keep pushing for a championship.

"It's tough," quarterback David Greene said Tuesday. "You try to sit here and say it doesn't affect us, but it does affect us. We've had so many people get hurt."

Georgia got a glimpse of things to come when starting defensive end Will Thompson and emerging receiver Cedric Haywood sustained season-ending injuries before the season even got started. They were hurt while practicing for the opener.

So was Kentrell Curry, one of the best safeties in the Southeastern Conference. He missed the first three games with an injured leg, tried to return against LSU but lasted only two series. Surgery was needed, ending his college career.

Since then, four more players -- three of them starters -- have gone down with season-ending injuries. The latest was cornerback Decory Bryant, who broke a bone in his neck while returning a kickoff in last Saturday's victory over UAB. His football career could be over.

"We keep waiting on it to stop, but it hasn't stopped yet," Greene said. "When you play the game of football, you know some guys are going to get injured. Obviously, though, I've never been around a team that had injuries like this."

The list of season-ending injuries is only the tip of the iceberg. Eleven players who have started, plus nine reserves, have missed at least one game. Five other starters have been knocked out of games with injuries.

The Bulldogs couldn't have picked a worse time to resemble a MASH unit. They'll face No. 23 Florida, a perennial nemesis, on Saturday. Big games against Auburn and Georgia Tech also loom on the schedule.

Georgia would virtually ensure another SEC East title with a victory over the Gators. The Bulldogs are fifth in the BCS standings, one of a handful of teams still in contention for a spot in the national championship game.

But they can't afford to lose. And they can't afford to lose any more players.

"Coach Eason" -- receivers coach John Eason -- "might have to come in and run a couple of routes," receiver Fred Gibson quipped. "Coach Richt can play quarterback. Wasn't he a quarterback in college? Maybe he can back up David. We need some help there, too."

Maybe it's just a matter of things evening out. The 2002 Bulldogs endured plenty of bumps and bruises but no serious injuries on the way to a 13-1 record, their first SEC title in 20 years and a No. 3 national ranking.

This season, Richt has been forced to juggle his lineup, switch guys around and push some younger players onto the field quicker than expected.

There have been some unexpected benefits. Thomas Davis shifted from linebacker to safety after Curry was hurt -- and became one of Georgia's most dominating players. Sophomores Gerald Anderson and Darrius Swain have improved greatly on the defensive line, easing the loss of tackle Kedric Golston with a broken shoulder blade.

But the injuries make it difficult to prepare. Richt is hopeful that fullback Jeremy Thomas can return after missing last week's game because of a concussion, but there's no guarantee. Georgia's only other healthy fullback is Des Williams, who moved from defense to offense just a week ago.

"If Jeremy goes, that's great," Richt said. "If not, then we're a team that's spent a lot of time preparing for something we can't use. ... We're kind of scrambling around right now."

Georgia has gotten some good news this week.

Gibson, the team's top deep threat, is feeling much better after missing three games and most of two others with first a strained hamstring, then a bruised knee.

"I'm very confident that I'll play Saturday," he said. "Last week, I could barely walk. This week, after getting treatment, I feel pretty good about myself. I'm ready to play Florida."

The Bulldogs could use a boost on offense. The injuries appeared to take their toll the past two games -- both unimpressive victories against lowly opponents.

Georgia trailed Vanderbilt 2-0 at halftime before rallying for a 27-8 victory. Last week, UAB led 13-10 in the second half, but Billy Bennett kicked a pair of field goals to pull out a 16-13 win.

"For a team that's 7-1 and ranked where we're ranked, it still feels like we're a team with our backs against the wall," Richt said. "In a lot of ways, it is."

How long can the ailing Bulldogs hold out? Stay tuned.

"Hopefully it won't catch up to us," offensive guard Josh Brock said, "till after the bowl game."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index