ATHENS — Back in the day, Georgia used to put stickers of stars or bones on the back of players’ helmets to acknowledge outstanding plays or performances in games. Now they get K.O.’s. Or, at least the Bulldogs’ receivers do.
It’s assumed that K.O. stands for Knock Outs, as in the boxing term. But Tyler Simmons, who revealed this little factoid on Monday, didn’t elaborate.
According to him, receivers are awarded a K.O. from assistant coach Cortez Hankton when they execute a critical, open-field block that springs a back or fellow receiver for a score or significant gain during a game. Simmons may or may not lead the Bulldogs in KOs, but he knows for sure he’s among the leaders.
J.J. Holloman has quite a few K.O.s, as well. He added one more this past Saturday when his downfield block on Auburn defensive back Noah Igbinoghene sprung D’Andre Swift for a 77-yard touchdown.
“Blocks like that, we call them ‘KOs’,” Simmons said on Monday. “In the past we might’ve gotten rewarded with candy or something. This year, we don’t really get rewarded for them. But the team reward is we get a touchdown.”
The six points is certainly reward enough, but the Bulldogs do make a big deal out of K.O.s. There is no ceremony or trophy that comes with them. But it’s a statistic that is meticulously logged and tracked, just like catches, yards and touchdowns. And it goes a long way in determining how much a receiver plays.
So, like those other stats, the competition for KOs among the wide receivers is fierce.
“It’s right up there with the catches and yards, of course,” said Simmons, who has but five receptions on the season but has started five games and sat out just one due to injury. “Our room is very competitive anyway, as you can see. We’ve got a lot of players that can go out and play at any time in the game. One man goes down, it’s next man up. So it can get a little chippy in the room.”
Of course, Holloman wasn’t the only player to execute a critical block on Swift’s fourth-quarter scoring play. There was center Lamont Gaillard, who managed to get to the second-level to lock up Auburn’s middle linebacker on the play. There was left guard Solomon Kindley, who managed to tie up two defensive linemen on the back just long enough to let Swift zip by as he cut back against the grain. Then there was tight end Isaac Nauta, who took care of Auburn defensive back Jeremiah Dinson with a pair of downfield shoves to spring Swift free to the Georgia sideline.
Put those blocks together with Swift’s speed and moves, and it all translated into what was for Auburn a back-breaking touchdown with 13:53 remaining in a 27-10 victory.
No word on what tight ends or linemen call such blocks or how they get rewarded for them, but they definitely result in the acknowledgment and praise of head coach Kirby Smart.
“D’Andre is a really electric, explosive runner. He’s really good out of the backfield catching the ball, too,” Smart said. “But J.J. Holloman and Solomon Kindley and Mecole Hardman, there’s a lot of good blocks that springs a 30-yard play to whatever that one was — a 60 or 70-yard play. If you’ve got that, it helps you as a runner and D’Andre would be the first to admit that.”
“I couldn’t do anything without them,” the sophomore back said of his blockers. “We’ve had a lot of young players that stepped up.”
Last week, a similar scenario translated into an 83-yard touchdown for Swift against Kentucky. He also had a 20-yard score in that game and a 33-yard TD against Florida.
In addition to being fully recovered from off-season groin surgery, Swift is starting to find a lot more daylight downfield. After Saturday’s 186-yard rushing performance against Auburn (he also had four catches for another 43 yards), Swift now has 808 yards and 8 touchdowns on the season, and is averaging 7.0 yards per carry, close to the 7.6 yards he averaged as a freshman.
That’s quite a difference from earlier in the season. Georgia did not have a run of more than 30 yards in its first five SEC games this year. It has had at least one in each of the last three.
Asked what has been the difference, quarterback Jake Fromm said: “Execution.”
“Everyone’s been playing off each other, everyone’s been in that groove right now,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep it up and keep rolling with it. It’s working out really well for us right now.”
As long as Georgia’s receivers keep piling up the K.O.’s, the big runs will keep coming.