Thursday, December 7, 2023

Brock Bowers injury: Where Georgia goes from here without star playmaker as critical SEC stretch approaches

No. 1 Georgia was dealt a devastating blow on Monday amid the news that tight end Brock Bowers will undergo tightrope surgery to repair a sprained ankle suffered in Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt and the superstar playmaker is expected to miss several weeks of action. In a release, the school said that Bowers is expected to make a full recovery. 

The Napa, California, native was the Bulldogs’ leading receiver during the past two national championship-winning seasons and was well on his way to a three-peat after racking up 567 yards and four touchdowns through seven games this season. The offense for the ultra-talented Bulldogs has gone through Bowers since the day he stepped on campus prior to the 2021 season. Whether making the catch or demanding attention to free up the rest of the offense, he has been the centerpiece, especially this season amid the transition to Mike Bobo’s second stint as offensive coordinator with the program.

Bowers’ injury begs the question: What does Georgia do now? This is the biggest test coach Kirby Smart has faced during the Bulldogs dynasty, and he has to fix things quickly if he wants to make history by leading this program to a historic third consecutive national title.

Pressure on the tight ends

Sophomore tight end Oscar Delp will face more pressure than anybody else on offense. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound sophomore is currently fifth on the team in receiving with 13 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He’s had a respectable season, but the Bulldogs will need him to be much more than “respectable” if they want to continue to develop this offense in the same manner that it was trending prior to the injury to Bowers. Make no mistake, Delp is a big-time prospect who’s seemingly capable of stepping up. The Cumming, Georgia, native was a four-star prospect, the top-ranked tight end and the No. 51 overall player in the 2022 class.

This isn’t the first time that Georgia has had a tight end dealing with an ankle issue. Freshman Lawson Luckie, who stepped in behind Delp after Bowers’ injury against Vanderbilt, underwent tightrope surgery for a sprained ankle in August. Like Delp, Luckie was a four-star prospect, the second-ranked tight end and the No. 68 overall player during the 2023 recruiting cycle.

Can either of these players replace what Bowers brought to the table? Probably not. That’s asking way too much. However, both are good enough to do work over the middle, are solid as run blockers and talented enough to keep the offense running through the tight end position as much as possible.

Can a true wide receiver step up?

Smart has utilized Bowers and running backs out of the backfield as receivers quite a bit over the last two-plus years, but that might have to change over the next couple of weeks. Ladd McConkey came back from a back injury earlier this month and has been one of the more reliable pass catchers during the two-year national title run. The veteran is getting healthy at the right time and will likely have to shoulder more of the load than he has at any point during his Georgia career. 

Veteran Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint has had moments of brilliance throughout his career, Missouri transfer Dominic Lovett led the Tigers with 846 receiving yards last season and Mississippi State transfer RaRa Thomas was brought to Athens, Georgia, by Smart to be more than just an ancillary piece to the 2023 offensive puzzle.

The Bulldogs have the ability to play more of a standard brand of football by running the ball and working off play action to receivers outside and over the top. If they have to rely on their receivers and first-year starting quarterback Carson Beck — which is more probable than possible at this point — they have options. 

Figure it out

Georgia has been heavily criticized for what some perceived as a cupcake schedule, but that narrative exists in the eyes of the beholder. What isn’t debatable is that, after the bye week, things are going to crank up quite a bit. 

Florida isn’t exactly a juggernaut, but you never know what is going to happen in a rivalry game. Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee are all currently ranked in the AP Top 25. Whether they still are at the time their respective matchups roll around remains to be seen,  but home games against the Tigers and Rebels followed by the road trip to Neyland Stadium to take on the Volunteers isn’t the ideal slate following the injury to Bowers.

The timetable for recovery from tightrope surgery is anywhere from 4-6 weeks, which means the earliest he’ll return within that timetable is the Tennessee game. And assuming he does heal quickly, will he even be 100%? Georgia can work through Bowers’ injury. It has the talent and options on offense to keep things firing at a reasonably high level against its toughest stretch of the season. 

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