ATHENS — There was a lot of talk before this season about getting the Georgia tailbacks more involved in the passing game. Sony Michel and others were practicing at slot receiver. Nick Chubb talked about catching more passes.
That hasn’t quite materialized and was especially lacking Saturday when Georgia lost its first game of the season.
Through 10 games, Michel only has 3 catches, and Chubb has 2. Freshman D’Andre Swift has been more involved and is fourth on the team with 12 catches.
But there were only two tailback receptions in the loss at Auburn — one by Elijah Holyfield, which went for 4 yards, and one by Brian Herrien, and it went for no gain. Georgia finished with a season-low for yards (230) and points (17).
So what’s with the lack of screen passes? Georgia coach Kirby Smart said it’s “hard to do” when opposing defenses tend to be focused so hard on the tailbacks.
“We don’t see traditional coverages,” Smart said. “People don’t play us the way we play people. The way people play us a lot of times is to take the run away. A lot of times it’s like that. It’s not as simple as calling a screen play. There’s more to it than that. We’re trying to find ways to get the backs the ball because we’ve got a lot of backs. But they cover our backs out of the backfield last week, and they cover our backs out of the slot. So you’re always trying to find a way to get them the ball. There’s no easy way against really good defenses.”
Georgia’s perimeter blocking by receivers also hasn’t been as good as Smart would like, he said, which is another reason the Bulldogs may be reluctant to call screens. So they tend to focus instead on explosive plays that have worked in previous games against the upcoming opponent.
“A lot of times you try to mimic those. We call it copycats,” Smart said. “We see the same plays each week: Auburn copied some plays that worked against us. So offensively you’re always trying to figure out what works on that defense.”
A performance like at Auburn may send up some warning signs and concerns. But Georgia was pretty successful the first nine weeks and still ranks a respectable fifth in the SEC and 47th nationally in total offensive yards. The run-heavy philosophy helped get the Bulldogs to 9-0 and No. 1 in the country.
So the coaches aren’t trying to rip up the script quite yet.
“You’re looking for new ideas, new plays. But you can’t throw everything away and just start anew,” Smart said. “You’ve got certain plays you run, you’ve run them since camp. You try to window-dress them different ways. You try to execute better. Protect better. Give the quarterback a chance, maybe give him some easier throws. But you’re not trying to change everything, no. You’re just trying to play well against Kentucky.”