A.J. Green caught his first pass in last Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt more than halfway through the second quarter, but the star receiver’s presence on the field already had made a difference for Georgia.
The Bulldogs had built a 19-0 lead by then en route to a 43-0 rout against the Commodores.
“It was great to see,” Green said.
Vanderbilt unveiled coverages tailor-made to contain Green that Bulldogs coaches had not seen on film.
It did not matter, as Georgia moved the ball anyway.
Kris Durham beat single coverage for a 55-yard completion.
Washaun Ealey broke free for a 58-yard run – the Bulldogs’ longest of the season.
Green, one of college football’s most electrifying playmakers, all but demands defenses to change their normal coverages.
“I don’t think there’s much doubt that he’s drawn the most attention of anybody I’ve coached,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “There has definitely been an A.J. Green plan so far. He changes everything.”
That’s saying something considering that Richt coached at Florida State in the 1990s when his offensive stars included receiver Peter Warrick, the No. 4 overall NFL draft pick in 2000.
“Defenses have to know where he is and they’ve got to account for him,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “That’s going to take a lot of focus away from just lining up and playing ball.”
Despite their efforts, Green still caught three passes for 64 yards and a touchdown against Vanderbilt. He has 16 catches for 279 yards and four touchdowns in three games since returning from a four-game NCAA suspension for selling his Independence Bowl jersey.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound junior caught six passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in a 41-14 win over Tennessee the week before Vanderbilt.
“You just can’t get yourself caught up there in a lot of one-on-one matchups, he’s such a special player,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “What happens is it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. You’re so focused on trying to handle A.J. It really puts a lot of pressure on the rest of your defense, whether it’s in the run game or in pass coverage away from A.J.”
Georgia has averaged 37.0 points and 452.7 yards per game since Green’s return and 24.3 points and 352.3 yards without him.
“A.J. brings a whole new dimension to the offense,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “It definitely changes defenses up a lot. They have to put a safety over top and shade a linebacker to his side. It just opens up other players to make plays and everyone else has really stepped up.”
Durham took advantage against Vanderbilt, catching four passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.
“We did a little bit more in the coverage in the back end than we had and we didn’t execute really well,” Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell said. “Of course, Georgia had a lot to do with that.”
Georgia rushed for 124.3 yards per game while Green was suspended and has averaged 185.3 per game since he’s been back. Tight ends Orson Charles and Aron White combined for six catches for 66 yards in the four games without Green and 12 catches for 193 in the three with him.
“He keeps those safeties out of the box,” tailback Carlton Thomas said. “Ain’t too many guys can cover that guy one-on-one, so you’re going to have to take somebody out of the box and give us more running room and some more space to get in and out of the backfield. A.J. does a lot from scoring touchdowns to demanding that double team.”
With good reason.
Green is fourth in program history with 18 touchdown catches and sixth among active FBS players in receiving yards per game at 78.8.
“When you start seeing coverages you’ve not seen before,” Richt said, “then you know it’s because of A.J.”
► PHOTO GALLERY: View a photo history of the beloved Bulldogs mascot
► VIDEO: Bulldogs mascot Uga VIII debuts against Vandy
► PHOTO GALLERY: Georgia Bulldogs vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
► MULTIMEDIA: Bulldogs Rewind: UGA over Vandy 43-0