Running Back U has been an apt description of UGA football over much of the modern era, starting with Vince Dooley’s arrival in Athens.
A couple of seasons ago, the Dawgs nearly ran their way to a national championship, and, once again, Georgia’s offense appears likely to rely heavily on its talented running backs this season, at least to start with, since the receiving corps was decimated by graduation, early departures and, most recently, the dismissal of the most experienced returnee, J.J. Holloman.
Still, many of the most memorable plays in UGA football history have been passes (from the flea-flicker to Run-Lindsay to Terry Godwin’s incredible one-handed touchdown catch against Notre Dame a couple of years ago).
In fact, there have been times over the years when UGA has been known for putting the ball up in the air more than its running attack.
Longtime head coach Wally Butts was considered a prime mover in the passing attack, and mentored Fran Tarkenton. Under his successor, Johnny Griffith, quarterback Larry Rakestraw set an NCAA single-game passing record against Miami in 1963. And, in the Ray Goff era, Eric Zeier threw the ball 65 times against Florida in 1993, with Shannon Mitchell catching 15 of those passes, setting a Georgia record.
A lot of talented receivers were on the other end of all those passes thrown over the years by UGA quarterbacks.
If you want to pick Georgia’s all-time greatest wide receivers, a good starting place is with Terrence Edwards, the only UGA receiver ever to catch passes for 1,000 yards in a season, and also holder of the school records for most career pass receptions (204), most career yards gained receiving (3,093) and most career touchdown receptions (30). Edwards, who played under Jim Donnan and Mark Richt, and is the only Dawg ever to lead the team in receptions for four consecutive seasons, is one of only five receivers in SEC history to pass the 3,000-yard mark.
Also guaranteed a spot among UGA’s all-time best receivers is A.J. Green, who holds the school record for most receptions by a freshman, and probably would have other individual records, too, had he not battled injuries, missed four games in an NCAA suspension and left early for the NFL. Green mainly is remembered for his ridiculously athletic circus catches, including an unforgettable one-hander against Colorado in 2010.
Perhaps forgotten by some fans because they played during the underwhelming Goff era are two other great receivers: Brice Hunter and Andre Hastings. Hunter holds the school record for most pass receptions in a season (76 in 1993) and ranks behind only Edwards in career pass receptions and yards gained receiving in a season. Hastings, who left early for the pros, had 124 career receptions for 1,876 yards and 13 touchdowns, and also was a talented kickoff and punt returner.
Fred Gibson, who played under Richt, is second all-time in career receiving yards behind Edwards, with 2,884. He also ranks fifth in career receptions and his 201 yards receiving against Kentucky in 2001 ranks second in UGA history for a single game.
Although he also spent time at running back and quarterback, the legendary Hines Ward finished his career at Georgia as a receiver, and definitely ranks among the Dawgs’ greatest, ranking in the Top 10 in season pass receptions (55 in 1997), career pass receptions (144) and yards receiving in a season (900 in 1996). He also set the school record for receptions in a bowl game when he pulled in 12 passes for 122 yards against Wisconsin in the 1997 Outback Bowl. Typical of his versatility was the win over Florida in 1997 when Ward had seven receptions for 85 yards, ran five times for 21 yards, completed two passes for 27 yards and returned two kickoffs for 70 yards. And, hey, he has his own UGA action figure!
A favorite from the years under Richt is Mohamed Massaquoi, who is tied for fourth at UGA for most receptions in a season (58 in 2008), fifth in yards gained receiving in a season (920 in 2008), sixth in career receptions (158), sixth in most yards gained receiving in a game (191 against Kentucky in 2008), seventh in career receiving yards (2,282) and is tied for the record of most touchdown receptions in a game for the 3 he caught against Georgia Tech in 2008. One of my favorite plays involving him was the 84-yard touchdown pass he caught from Matthew Stafford against Florida in 2007.
Also from the Richt era, Tavarres King set UGA’s single-game receiving record with 205 yards against Michigan State in the 2012 Outback Bowl (including one for 80 yards) and ranks fourth on the career yardage list (2,602), fourth in yards gained receiving in a season (950 in 2012), fourth in career yards receiving (2,602) and third in TD receptions in a career (21).
Another particular favorite of mine from the Richt era is Malcolm Mitchell, who ranks behind only Edwards and Hunter for most career receptions (174), is tied with Massaquoi for fourth most receptions in a season (58), ranks sixth in career yards receiving (2,350), is eighth for yards gained receiving in a season (865 in 2015), and is tied for eight in career touchdown receptions with 16. Plus, he also is quite a remarkable young man, named to UGA’s 40 Under 40 list for his work in improving literacy skills among young people, founding the Read With Malcolm nonprofit.
I’ll round out my Top 10 all-time Georgia receivers with Lindsay Scott, who, despite playing in the run-heavy Dooley era, ranks eighth on the career receiving yardage list with 2,098, and has perhaps the most famous touchdown reception in UGA football history, catching the pass from Buck Belue to beat Florida and keep the Dawgs on the road to an eventual national championship in 1980.
When I ran a fan poll 10 years ago on who the Dawgs’ all-time greatest receiver was, Scott came in second behind Ward and ahead of Edwards and Green.
There have been quite a few other stellar receivers at Georgia through the years, including Jimmy Orr from the Butts years, Pat Hodgson, Kent Lawrence, Gene Washington and Charley Whittemore under Dooley, Corey Allen under Donnan, Reggie Brown from the Richt era and Javon Wims, Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman since Kirby Smart took over in Athens.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one more guy who was only a part-time receiver: Champ Bailey.
Known as Georgia football’s iron man for his endurance and versatility, Bailey was a consensus All-American, playing offense, defense, and special teams. He was in for more than 1,000 plays during his junior season in 1998, including more than 100 plays in seven different games. And, in his junior season, he had 47 catches for 744 yards and five touchdowns while also winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as college football’s top defensive player.
Now, that’s impressive.