ATHENS — About the only name Georgia fans heard coming into Saturday’s game against UMass was Andy Isabella. And those who hadn’t heard of him before will surely remember him now.
The Minutemen’s senior wide receiver, who came to Sanford Stadium leading the nation in receiving yards, left with that mark safely intact. He added 219 yards receiving on 15 receptions and two more touchdowns to his total, which now stand at 1,698 yards and 13 for the season. He’s well over 3,000 receiving yards for his career.
Isabella was so impressive that he even caught the attention of Georgia’s quarterback.
“What a player. I mean, he did a phenomenal job,” the Bulldogs’ Jake Fromm said. “It didn’t matter who we put on him, he was finding a way to get separation and get open. I don’t know if he dropped a ball. I don’t know if anybody else caught a ball. But he did awesome. It seemed like every time they threw it there he was again catching it. Man, great player, really exciting, really fun to watch.”
Unless, of course, you play on Georgia’s defense. Then you’re not as much impressed by Isabella as you are somewhat embarrassed about what he did. Isabella’s 15 catches was the second-most Georgia has allowed in school history and the most ever in Sanford Stadium. His receiving yards were the third-most allowed by the Bulldogs ever.
UMass (4-8) finished with 390 yards total offense, 287 of that coming through the air. The 27 points was the second-most Georgia has given up this season. Missouri had 29.
“We watched a lot of film on him and knew what type of threat he was,” Georgia safety J.R. Reed said. “That offense just did a great job of getting the kid open and playing him in different spots on the field. They feed him the ball really well and he does a good job running good routes. When he’s the main guy in their offense and he sees the ball a lot, those kind of things are going to happen. We didn’t want those kinds of yards to happen, but he’s a good player so he was going to make plays.”
Said starting cornerback Eric Stokes, who was involved in coverage on one of Isabella’s TDs: “He’s the man. He showed what he can do. Going against him will help me in the long run.”
It actually wasn’t the biggest game for Isabella this season. He had 303 yards and 2 TDs on just nine catches two weeks ago against Liberty. But it’s the most he’s ever had in a big-time atmosphere against a Power 5 powerhouse such as Georgia.
“It’s awesome,” the 5-foot-10, 190-pound receiver said of his day. “Georgia has great players, the best in the country. We just kept fighting. I know the score got a little out of hand, but we kept fighting.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was impressed as well. He pointed out that Isabella is a Senior Bowl invitee and projects as a second- or third-round pick in next spring’s NFL draft.
But he also defended his secondary some as well. He pointed out that a lot of Isabella’s production came in the second half against the Bulldogs’ backups. And, indeed, seven of Isabella’s catches, 162 yards and both touchdowns came after halftime, at which time Georgia led 42-13.
“I think the young players that really struggled against him,” Smart said. “… He went out and played at a high level in a big stadium, which is probably what he wanted to do coming in here. They do a good job, now, finding ways to get him the ball. He’s really more like a running back than a receiver. They get him the ball on a lot of touches and we knew that. He got, what, 15 receptions? They find ways to get him easy catches, but he was able to get behind us, too.”
That’s where Georgia has to be concerned. Isabella did indeed get behind the defense as his touchdowns were from 75 and 45 yards out. With Georgia Tech and Alabama left between the Bulldogs and a possible College Football Playoff berth, they know they’re going to see more big-play threats like Isabella and they know they might like to run some of the stuff UMass had success with.
If nothing else, it should serve as a wake-up call for the Bulldogs.
“We just want to go back and get it fixed,” Reed said. “But we’re not really concerned about what happened. out there. We did a pretty job as the first-team defense, though we gave up too many yards. The second-team gave up too many yards, too. There’s always bits and pieces we can fix.”
Said Stokes: “We knew coming in that he was the top wide receiver and all this and all that. We just have to focus in on the little details. I know one the big plays we gave up everybody wasn’t where they should be. We didn’t take care of the little details and if we do that will get us right.”