Georgia tweaking playbook, Kirby Smart wants ball downfield and in playmakers’ hands

Georgia football-UGA-James Cook
Georgia tailback/receiver James Cook touched the ball just once from scrimmage against Notre Dame.

ATHENS — Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley said entering the season “players, not plays,” would be the focus for the Bulldogs.

Kirby Smart made it clear again following Tuesday night practice that getting the ball into the top playmakers’ hands remains a point of emphasis during the bye week.

The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs beat then-No. 7 Notre Dame 23-17 last Saturday. But some of Georgia’s top skill position players had limited touches, notably George Pickens (2 targets) to Eli Wolf (1 target) and James Cook (1 carry).

RELATED: Kirby Smart shares defensive focus for bye week: “Havoc”

Smart said he also wants Coley to help find ways for Jake Fromm — the top playmaker of all — to take more shots downfield with more opponents aiming to stack the line against the run game.

As Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said following Saturday night’s game, “If you give Georgia the opportunity to run the ball, you have no chance.”

Smart knows that, too, and has instructed Coley to work on options.

“It’s limitless what we’re trying to do, but the central focus is protecting Jake and let him throw the ball vertical,” Smart said. “Spread the ball out some and loosen people up.

“We know our strength is running the ball. Sometimes teams try to take that away, and you’ve got to have answers.”

Indeed, Fromm found 6-foot-5 receiver Lawrence Cager on a vertical route that gained 36 yards at the start of the fourth quarter Saturday, the longest play of the game for either team.

Smart had the same message for how his offense needed to grow after Vanderbilt packed the box and prevented a Georgia touchdown the final 38 minutes of the Bulldogs’ 30-6 win.

“At the end of the day we know what kind of boxes we’re going to see, what kind of fronts we’re going to see,” Smart said after the season-opening win in Nashville.

“And we’ve got to expand, do more things, throw the ball down the field, stretch the field, get the wideouts the ball. I think Jake can do that. We’ve got to protect him to be able to do that.”

Smart said Tuesday Georgia is still looking for ways to maximize its talent the skill positions.

“What can we do to get the ball to our playmakers in space, how can we do it better?” Smart said, asked what the Bulldogs will work on during the bye week. “How can we find plays to get the ball on the perimeter to loosen some teams up, throw the ball downfield, find ways to get George (Pickens) the ball.”

Coley said before the season a priority was making sure the most explosive players were touching the football.

“I think in the pro-style game, you coordinate to your players,” Coley said. “Coach Smart is all about players, not plays. He definitely preaches that to us. And sometimes as coaches you forget, you’re like, ‘man, this scheme is really intriguing.’. But are your players touching the ball within this game?

“I think that the philosophy that we have here at Georgia is that: Who’s touching the ball and are they the guys that are going to give us the biggest impact.”

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