Injured Dawgs limp into homestretch

Updated: October 29, 2003, 1:49 AM ET

ATHENS, Ga. -- The Georgia Bulldogs are still pushing for a championship. They hope to have enough healthy bodies to finish the job.

The No. 4 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 anyone left by the end of the season.

"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 Tuesday. "In a lot of ways, it is."

Three players suffered season-ending injuries before the season even started. Since the games began, four more players have been lost for the year. In all, five expected starters are no longer on the field.

"It's tough," quarterback David Greene said. "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."

The latest was cornerback Decory Bryant, who broke a bone in his neck while returning a kickoff last Saturday in a victory over UAB. His football career could be over.

Three other defensive starters -- safety Kentrell Curry, end Will Thompson and tackle Kedric Golston -- are on the sideline. So is projected No. 1 tailback Tony Milton.

That's just the tip of the injury iceberg. Twenty players -- 11 who've been in the starting lineup at one point or another -- have missed at least one game. Five other starters have been knocked out of games with injuries.

"I've never been around this many injuries," defensive line coach Rodney Garner said, managing a weak smile. "I'm worried about how we're living. Maybe someone is punishing us a little bit for something."

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 the normal 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 Golston with a broken shoulder blade.

There's more good news.

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.

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

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.

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