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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Even without Todd Gurley, Georgia established itself as the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference's East Division with a shutout victory over Missouri.
The No. 10 Bulldogs, with Gurley understudy Nick Chubb likely getting the call again, finally venture into the vaunted West on Saturday. They will be going for their fifth straight win when they face Arkansas (3-3, 0-3 SEC) in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.
Gurley, the SEC's top running back and a Heisman hopeful — at least before his indefinite suspension last week for alleged rules violations — doesn't appear any closer to returning. That was the word from Georgia coach Mark Richt via his Twitter feed Thursday.
Without Gurley, the Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1) fared just fine in last week's 34-0 win over the Tigers — a win in which Georgia intercepted Maty Mauk four times and held the Missouri to 147 total yards on 43 plays.
It was perhaps the most complete performance by the Bulldogs this season, even if their most complete player didn't see the field. And it's an effort they expect to repeat against the Razorbacks.
"We are not a one-man team, so we had a chip on our shoulder," Georgia tight end Jay Rome said. "We're going to play for Georgia, and we're going to play for Todd."
Following an SEC-opening loss at South Carolina, the Bulldogs have won four straight games — including three straight over East opponents to take control of the division. Georgia will have to overcome its first West opponent on the season to win a fifth in a row on Saturday, facing a much-improved Arkansas which has fallen on hard luck in recent weeks.
After showing signs of progress in Bret Bielema's second season as coach with a dominating wins over Texas Tech and Northern Illinois, the Razorbacks have squandered fourth-quarter leads in losses to Texas A&M and Alabama in their last two games.
Arkansas has lost 15 SEC games in a row dating back to the 2012 season, but its improved play has the full attention of Richt — even if he dismissed the significance of a of facing at step up in competition against the West, where all but the Razorbacks and LSU are ranked.
"There's only one game that matters the most: when the eastern division champion plays the western division champion," Richt said.
Other factors to watch on Saturday as the uncertainty surrounding Gurley's status remains:
CHUBB'S RECOVERY: Making his first start, Chubb barreled his way over and through Missouri defenders last week — leaving a lasting first impression for the talented running back. The 5-foot-10, 228-pound freshman finished the win with 38 rushes and four catches for 174 yards of total offense, leading Bielema to say, "(Georgia) didn't miss a beat." If Gurley is indeed out of Saturday's game, Chubb's recovery from last week's heavy workload figures to be watched closely.
REGROUPED COLLINS: While Chubb earned national headlines last week, another of the SEC's top running backs had the worst game of his career. Arkansas running back Alex Collins was suspended for the first quarter of last week's loss to Alabama for missing a pair of workouts, and he struggled mightily once he entered the game — finishing with only 13 yards rushing on six carries and fumbling once. The sophomore is still fourth in the SEC in rushing with an average of 105.7 yards per game, but he likely must improve for the Razorbacks to have a chance on Saturday.
TURNOVER HUNTERS: Georgia's four interceptions last week, two by sophomore safety Quincy Mauger, were part of five overall turnovers forced against the Tigers. The Bulldogs now lead the SEC and are fifth nationally with a plus-9 turnover margin this season, and they've scored 34 points off 13 turnovers this season.
BRUISED ELLIS: Arkansas could face one of its biggest injury setbacks so far this season on Saturday if starting middle linebacker Brooks Ellis is unable to play because of a bone bruise to his knee suffered last week. Bielema said Ellis, who is second on the team with 39 tackles, is improving "very quickly," but sophomore Josh Williams is prepared to step in in Ellis can't play.
WAR MEMORIAL HOME?: Saturday is Arkansas' lone trip to Little Rock to play this season, following years of multiple games in War Memorial Stadium. The school is scheduled to play one game there per season through 2018 after a contract revision last year, and attendance Saturday is expected to be watched closely as the stadium's future as a viable SEC venue is considered. Only 45,198 attended last year's game against Mississippi State in the 54,000-capacity stadium while Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville holds 72,000.
Associated Press Sports Writer Charles Odum in Athens, Georgia, contributed to this report.
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