Unless you were watching Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray closely, his play-action fake-out was easy to miss.
Only a single Ole Miss defender sniffed it out, but by the time he reached the quarterback, it was too late.
Murray took the snap, faked a handoff, casually took a few steps toward the Georgia end zone with the ball against his right him and then blasted a pass to a wide-open Marlon Brown, who was so comfortable with the separation he had that his trot nearly allowed a defender to stop his 66-yard, second-quarter touchdown on Saturday in Georgia’s 37-10 victory.
It’s a tough play to defend, and one worthy of dusting off for special occasions, including on Saturday in a game the Bulldogs needed to win in order to stay on the path to another Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.
“Once somebody sees it, it makes an impression,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who picked up the play in the 1980s while working as a graduate assistant under Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden. “And no one wants it to happen to them, so you can’t call it very often.”
It worked for Bowden and Richt, who later became the offensive coordinator at Florida State, and it’s been successful at Georgia.
It worked again in 2001, when David Greene’s acting caught Auburn off guard and he was able to complete a 67-yard touchdown pass to Fred Gibson on the first drive of a 24-17 loss to the Tigers. A year later, Greene did it again, this time connecting with Terrence Edwards for a 65-yard score in a 48-17 win over Vanderbilt that kept Georgia undefeated. And in 2003, it clicked once more for Greene as he found Gibson for a 46-yard catch, though it didn’t score a touchdown. The Bulldogs went on to defeat the Yellow Jackets 34-17 that year.
Preparing to run the play, Murray studied up on film of Greene.
“I was about to text him this morning and tell him we were going to run the play, but I didn’t want to jinx it,” Murray said.
As much as the element of surprise is an advantage running the play, it’s a dangerous call to make.
For a brief moment, when the quarterback has to sell it, he’s particularly vulnerable.
“It’s scary when you’re just standing back there looking this way and you don’t know what’s going on behind you,” Murray said. “You have to have a lot of faith in your offensive line and faith that the safety is going to jump it and it’s going to be wide open. It works pretty much every time, but you’ve just got to trust it.”
It’s one of those rare risks in a Georgia playbook that has garnered a reputation for leaning on the conservative side, which may be part of the reason it works so well when Richt pulls it out. And when it doesn’t work, it can be ugly.
Matthew Stafford found that out when he attempted it in 2007 against South Carolina only to find Eric Norwood barreling down on him.
When that happens, it’s a little more forgettable, at least if it’s your quarterback being devoured in the backfield.
“We ran it more than four times, but it worked four times,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “Those are the only ones I remember.”
There is good reason to forget those failed attempts, too, when you’re gambling on the usefulness of a play once a year or even less often. But when the Bulldogs needed something to stir up the offense on Saturday, it paid off big.
“(It’s a little bit scary) because you’ve got a third-and-1, and you probably don’t have a chance, a high-percentage chance, if you run the ball to get it, so you’re a little concerned that you want to make your shot count,” Bobo said. “That’s why we froze it at the line to see what we could get and got the look. We needed a big play. We needed something to happen. We were kind of a little stagnant on offense in the first half.”
And all it took was a little bit of acting and lot of trust.
Chris Weinke to Marvin “Snoop” Minnis, vs. Clemson, 2000
David Greene to Terrence Edwards, vs. Vanderbilt, 2002