ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia probably picked a good week to be without the Southeastern Conference’s leading receiver.
A.J. Green, who leads the conference with 44 catches and 732 yards receiving, will miss Saturday’s game against FCS opponent Tennessee Tech after suffering a rib injury in last week’s loss to Florida.
Coach Mark Richt said Tuesday he hopes Green will return for the Bulldogs’ Nov. 14 game against Auburn. Richt says Green’s injury could be a long-term benefit for the team if another receiver emerges against Tennessee Tech.
Richt said Tennessee Tech is “bent on stopping your run game,” which could create opportunities for big pass plays.
“Those guys are going to have to make plays, and I’m hoping that they do make plays and gain confidence,” Richt said.
Quarterback Joe Cox said a candidate to take advantage of the opportunity is freshman Rantavious Wooten, who has only four catches for 91 yards.
“It seems like every week this year he has gotten better and better,” Cox said. “You can see in practice the plays he makes, and I think he is ready to step up and be a guy that can make plays. I think he definitely is going to be one of the guys that fills in for A.J. this week.”
GETTING THE QB: Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes was yelling a cautionary “screen” to remind his fellow defenders to be on the lookout for a pass to the running back in last week’s game against Ole Miss. Antonio Coleman waved him off.
“A.C. looked back at me and said, ‘Nah, forget the screen. I’m going to go get this quarterback,'” Bynes said. “The next play, he got the sack. From then on, all our whole defensive line thought about was getting to their quarterback.
The Tigers sacked Jevan Snead four times and pressured him seven times. Coleman had two sacks, four tackles for loss and four hurries.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik called it the best game of the year for the defensive front of Antoine Carter, Mike Blanc and Jake Ricks.
“They’re working better together now,” Chizik said. “There’s some continuity there now.”
SIZZLING RETURNS: Trying to avoid kicking the ball to Vanderbilt’s fabulous freshman Warren Norman is proving to be quite a problem.
Coach Bobby Johnson said teams have been kicking away from Norman for several games, and No. 10 Georgia Tech was trying to do the same thing last weekend when the freshman returned a squib kick 80 yards for a touchdown.
Norman has matched Willie Gault as the only SEC players with three kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season. Gault did it for Tennessee in 1980. Norman has three more games left to take the record to himself starting Saturday night at No. 1 Florida.
“He just sees everything that’s happening in front of him,” Johnson said. “Even when he’s getting the ball in the backfield as a running back he sees holes where a lot of people just sort of run down the field, he’s always searching. His feet are never very high off the ground. He’s able to put that foot in the ground and really make a lot.”
Norman already has the Vanderbilt season record for return yards with 852, and he needs only 51 for the SEC’s season mark of 903 set by Dennis Johnson of Arkansas last season.
Norman’s seven touchdowns lead the Commodores.
RUNNING THROUGH PAIN: Despite running on a sore knee all season, Tennessee’s Montario Hardesty still ranks among the SEC’s rushing leaders.
The New Bern, N.C., native currently ranks 19th in the nation and fourth in the SEC with 105.1 yards rushing per game. He’s averaging 5 yards per carry and has eight touchdowns for the season.
Hardesty is on pace to finish with 1,261 yards this season, which would rank as the sixth best single-season performance by a Tennessee tailback.
Hardesty rests his knee when the Volunteers work on turf in their inside facility. He sometimes has to come out for a play or two during games.
By the time the trainer gets to me to say he’s out, he’s already back in. That speaks for him,” coach Lane Kiffin said. “He’s really been a warrior, really fought through injuries.”
WALK-ON WONDER: A year ago, Garrett Chisolm had been out of football for two seasons. Now the walk-on is South Carolina’s backup left guard.
Coach Steve Spurrier loves the 6-foot-6, 290-pound junior, who came to coaches in August and said he wanted to play. His last time on the field for organized football was in 2006 at NAIA member Pikeville College in Kentucky. His picture still isn’t on South Carolina’s Web site.
Chisolm missed almost three weeks of practice because he couldn’t come out until school started. But he wasted no time impressing Spurrier.
“I remember one day (cornerbacks) coach Lorenzo Ward said, ‘That new kid over there has knocked our guys on their butts,'” Spurrier remembered Tuesday. “I said, ‘What?'”
Sure enough, such defensive stars as Nathan Pepper didn’t want to line up across from Chisolm because he was knocking him down.
Spurrier and his assistants started working with Chisolm, who has found his way on the field in four of the team’s last five games. Chisolm still needs work on the finer points of his position, but Spurrier appreciates his attitude and how he is five minutes early for every meeting.
“He’s got a wonderful attitude that hopefully will rub off on all these other players, “Spurrier said. “As a coach, you love those kind of guys. You love those guys that really act like this is important to them.”
SPECIAL STATS: It seems like a statistical anomaly: No. 9 LSU leads the SEC in punt returns with an average of 17.3 yards, including a pair of 50-yarders by Trindon Holliday last weekend. Yet Tigers are last in the conference in kickoff returns, averaging 17.7 yards.
Holliday returns punts and kickoffs, but LSU coach Les Miles noted that it’s hard to pin his team’s low kickoff return average on Holliday — or even be upset about the kickoff returns in general — when opponents are kicking short to avoid the Tigers’ speedy return specialists.
“When they kick it, hypothetically to the 35-yard line, we really have a nice return. It’s 15 yards beyond the 20,” Miles said. “If we take the ball there and don’t return it a yard, then in fact, thank you. We’ll take that.”
AP Sports Writers Pete Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, La., Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn. and John Zenor in Auburn, Ala., and Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.
Charles Odum/The Associated Press