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Curtis Compton / AJC
Georgia redshirt sophomore Matt Landers is in his third year in the program playing for assistant Cortez Hankton, and Kirby Smart is hoping he will be ready to execute and make plays midway through the season.

Kirby Smart: Receivers must step up, Georgia championship hopes on the line

ATHENS —  “If you give Georgia the opportunity to run the football, you have no  chance to win the game.”

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said it on Sept. 21. Every team on the Bulldogs schedule heard it, watched it for themselves and have been scheming it.

“The game plan was set that they were going to have some one-on-one shots on the perimeter, but the extra hat was going to be committed to the run,” Kelly explained after the Irish narrowly fell, 23-17, in the classic Top 10 showdown.

“And they hit some one-on-one shots on the perimeter, but we had to be effective against the run, or we had no chance.”

Six games into the season, Kirby Smart and his offensive coaching staff are still trying to figure out how to have success against one of the most basic and common defensive schemes in football.

Georgia plays host to Kentucky at 6 p.m. on Saturday. But after that, the Bulldogs face more teams that have the talent to apply effective press coverage.

This is a press league, you’re going to go play South Carolina, Florida, LSU, Alabama,” Smart said. “Every team across the board likes to get their hands on you and disrupt timing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman all the way to a senior.

“You better be the attacker and not getting attacked at wideout. If you let them, they’ll maul you to sleep.”

 

It’s up to UGA receivers coach Cortez Hankton to put the players on the field that can get open and catch the football.

RELATED: ESPN analyst declares Georgia “done” because of receiver deficiency

Former NFL journeyman QB Dan Orlovksy called out the Georgia coaching staff for poor preparation and scheming.

“Georgia is very young at receiver right now,” said Orlovsky, who was at Sanford Stadium providing color analysis for ESPN. “And they didn’t do anything as a coaching staff to help those young receivers.”

It is an inexperienced group. Tyler Simmons was the leading returning receiver with 9 catches last season after two underclassmen turned pro (Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley), and another got himself thrown off the team (Jeremiah Holloman). Any of the three would have been the featured receiver and solved a great deal of the problem if they were still around.

As it is, Smart said Georgia is relying on a “committee” and hoping the receivers on the roster will learn the techniques to beat press coverage and block well down field.

Senior grad-transfer and go-to receiver Lawrence Cager is out indefinitely with a separated shoulder and injured ribs. Smart is looking to his receivers room for other players to step up.

We’ve got some good players out there, Matt Landers gotta step up, Tyler Simmons gotta step up, George (Pickens) gotta step up,” Smart said. “Kearis Jackson went in the game and did some physical things. Dom’s (Blaylock) gotta step up. D-Rob’s (Demetris Robertson) played well at times and has to continue to play more physical.

“I mean we’ve gotta use everybody we’ve got out there when (Cager is) not out there.”

The most pressing issue facing the team is on the receivers, quite literally.

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