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Quarterback Mason expects boost in Georgia's passing game with injured receivers set to return

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ATHENS, Georgia — Help is on the way for Hutson Mason and Georgia's struggling passing game.

Receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are expected to make their season debuts for No. 13 Georgia on Saturday against Vanderbilt. Another receiver, Jonathon Rumph, may need another week before returning from a hamstring injury.

Georgia has relied heavily on Todd Gurley and its running game through four games. That emphasis is not expected to change, but the Bulldogs' 111th-ranked passing game could use a boost.

Mason has completed 69 percent of his passes for the season, but he threw his first two interceptions of the year in last week's 35-32 win over Tennessee. Mason, a senior in his first year as the full-time starter, said he is pressing to make perfect throws, especially on deep routes.

The struggles seem to have affected Mason's self-confidence. Asked Tuesday if he was feeling better than after Saturday's narrow win over Tennessee, Mason's response was less than reassuring.

"I won't feel any better until we get this thing fixed and I start playing better, to tell you the truth," Mason said.

Mason said he hopes replenished depth at wide receiver will help.

Mitchell had been Georgia's top receiver before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in last year's opener at Clemson. He needed arthroscopic surgery after re-injuring the knee in August.

Michael Bennett and Chris Conley have been Mason's top targets. Mitchell and Scott-Wesley are the deep threats Georgia has lacked.

Gurley is the main reason Georgia ranks ninth in the nation in rushing. He ran for 208 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee and is the biggest concern for Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said Georgia "is going to take some shots down the field." Even so, Vanderbilt's focus is on containing Gurley.

PHOTO: Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason (14) out runs Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett (9) to the end zone for a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason (14) out runs Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett (9) to the end zone for a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

"You have to hold up and still make sure you can find a way to get a hat in the box with the run game," Derek Mason said. "And really if (Hutson Mason) is going to beat you, he's going to beat you. You can't let Gurley beat you. You have to make the quarterback beat you, and he's good enough to beat you."

Hutson Mason has yet to reach 200 yards passing in a game this season. He has thrown for five touchdowns with the two interceptions.

Bennett said the downtown in production in the passing game is puzzling because Hutson Mason had more success when he took over following Aaron Murray's season-ending knee injury last season.

"We've done it last year," Bennett said. "We threw for 300 yards in two games where Hutson had the same receivers, the same players pretty much, and we were killing it. This year we've been struggling for whatever reason but we've just got to have confidence out there and know we can do it. We have done it. That's the mindset we've got to have."

One obvious answer is Gurley's success has changed Georgia's emphasis on striving for a more balanced attack. When Gurley is averaging 8.8 yards per carry, there's no urgency to force-feed the passing game.

Even so, coach Mark Richt said Georgia eventually will need to force defenses to respect the threat of a pass.

"We've got to do some things to help him," Richt said of his quarterback. "We've got to separate at the wide receiver position a little better. ... We've just got to connect on some of them."

Hutson Mason said he is working to change his mindset this week.

"You always want to be cautious and still make good decisions, but I think there's just got to be a new mindset this week where I just let it fly to the best of my ability and hopefully still make great decisions," he said. "I think some of my problem in the past has been putting too much pressure on myself as far as trying to get everything right. I think that kind of has slowed down my ability to play."

Mason said he has to trust himself to "see what I see and just throw it."


AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Georgia wide receiver Michael Bennett (82) can't reach a pass as Tennessee defensive back Todd Kelly Jr. (6) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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