Doing so without its top three rushers, however, could pose more of a challenge.
Playing their first home game in five weeks, the 18th-ranked Bulldogs hope to overcome a suddenly thin running back corps and extend their winning streak to seven games Saturday against the struggling Aggies.
Georgia’s running back position took a hit in last Saturday’s 24-20 win over Florida. Richard Samuel suffered what could be a season-ending ankle injury, not long after rushing for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Samuel had been splitting carries with freshman Isaiah Crowell and was second on the team with 240 rushing yards.
While the Bulldogs (6-2) seemed to have enough depth at running back to make up for Samuel’s absence in this game, that is no longer the case.
Georgia suspended Crowell - fifth in the SEC with 689 rushing yards - along with Carlton Thomas - third on the team with 200 rushing yards - and seldom-used Ken Malcome on Tuesday for violations of team policies. The one-game bans were handed out for failing drug tests last week, according to AP sources.
The four ball carriers that will be inactive for Saturday have accounted for all but 34 of the 1,163 yards gained by Georgia running backs.
The injury and suspensions leave the Bulldogs with former walk-ons Brandon Harton and Wes Van Dyk as the only running backs on their roster. Their only rushing attempts this year came in a 59-0 win over Coastal Carolina on Sept. 17 - Harton had 33 yards on 11 carries while Van Dyk gained a yard on his lone attempt.
“I think we’ll be fine. Those guys just have to step up and get a couple more snaps and they’ll be ready to go,” quarterback Aaron Murray said.
To make up for the lack of experience in the backfield, coach Mark Richt could give more carries to cornerbacks Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith. Boykin has carried five times for 95 yards this season, and Smith has run for 21 yards on three attempts.
With all the shuffling at running back, Georgia will almost certainly rely more on Murray, who leads the SEC with 18 touchdown passes and is second with 1,822 yards.
Murray completed only 15 of 34 passes for 169 yards against the Gators, but he threw for two clutch TDs on fourth down to help the Bulldogs rally from a 14-point, second-quarter deficit. The sophomore could be without one of his favorite targets for a third straight game, however, as Malcolm Mitchell, leading the team with 438 receiving yards, is nursing a hamstring injury.
Despite all the problems for Georgia, which is tied with South Carolina atop the SEC East and riding its longest winning streak since a seven-game run to close the 2007 season, it figures to still have success offensively against New Mexico State (3-5).
The Aggies, 0-13 all-time against SEC schools, rank 107th out of 120 FBS teams in total defense, allowing an average of 442.6 yards. They surrendered a school-record 683 in last Saturday’s 48-34 loss to Nevada.
The Bulldogs have outscored New Mexico State by an average of 31.7 points in winning the first three meetings, though the programs haven’t met since 2002.
Finally returning to its home field also should be a big boost for Georgia, which hasn’t played at Sanford Stadium since beating Mississippi State 24-10 on Oct. 1.
“It feels good coming back to 85,000 fans that are yelling at the other team instead of you,” defensive end DeAngelo Tyson said. “Hopefully, we will continue to do what we do and play well.”
The defense has helped lead the Bulldogs during the winning streak, allowing an average of 225.2 yards in the six games, third-best in the FBS since Sept. 17.
That unit could be tested by a New Mexico State offense averaging 35.3 points and 469.5 yards in its last four games.
Last Saturday, Matt Christian passed for a career-best 432 yards with three touchdowns but also threw three interceptions. Taveon Rogers caught seven passes for a career-high 203 yards.
“We can’t take New Mexico State lightly,” Tyson said. “We’re going to prepare and compete like it’s the biggest game of the season. We’re on a good streak right now and can’t slip up if we want to reach our goals.”
The Aggies, however, haven’t defeated a Top 25 team in a dozen years.
They’ve been outscored by an average of 36.1 points in losing 16 straight to ranked opponents since defeating No. 22 Arizona State 35-7 in 1999. In two games against ranked foes last season, they lost to No. 3 Boise State 59-0 and No. 19 Nevada 52-6.
New Mexico State, though, defeated Minnesota 28-21 on Sept. 10 in its only other game this year against a BCS school.
“We just have to use the Minnesota game as an example as a BCS school,” Aggies coach DeWayne Walker said. “They can lose just like anyone else.”