Playing with a full deck: UGA’s offense utilizes rotation of weapons in passing game

With about two and a half minutes left on the clock, 75 yards and four points stood between Georgia and a victory over LSU, the No. 6 team in the nation.


Rachel G. Bowers

It was a familiar scene.

Georgia‚Äôs practice scenarios come to mind. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo puts his unit in near-impossible one-minute drills during practice, asking his players to drive 70 yards to the end zone with no timeouts before the clock‚Äôs 60 seconds tick off. The offense converts about 20 precent of the time in practice.

Georgia‚Äôs loss to Alabama in the 2012 Southeastern Conference title game comes to mind. The Bulldogs covered 80 of the 85 yards they needed in little more than a minute with no timeouts in the game‚Äôs last, much-talked about, over-analyzed and debated drive.

The difference against LSU? The cool-as-a-cucumber fifth-year senior Aaron Murray completed 100 percent of his passes, hitting tight end Arthur Lynch twice and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley twice, including for the go-ahead touchdown.

Wide receiver Chris Conley shirked the idea that Georgia’s offense had perfected its craft four games into the 2013 season.

“Not everything,” wide receiver Chris Conley said. “… I know for some people that’s hard to believe because we have been pretty efficient, but we can do better and we want to do better and we’re going to do whatever it takes to be better.”

The team is ninth in the country in passing offense with 345 yards a game. Quarterback Aaron Murray is 10th in passing yards with 1,338 and 11 touchdowns.

However, Georgia’s highest nationally ranked receiver doesn’t show up until the second page of the NCAA’s statistics section online — it’s Justin Scott-Wesley, ranked 79th with 289 yards and two touchdowns.

And Scott-Wesley isn’t even listed as a starter of the Bulldogs’ depth chart. He’s a second-string receiver and he leads the Bulldogs is receiving yards.

“We really don’t give the defense a chance to just hone in on one aspect of our game, whether that be running or passing, just because we have so many guys who can make plays,” Scott-Wesley said. “We don’t have to just line up and throw it to one guy and just hope he makes a play.”

It all starts with an attitude Tony Ball has instilled in his receivers: Practice like a starter.

Practice drills run through a cluster of pint-sized neon orange cones, as if to create a foot maze, are treated the same as running a route to catch the go-ahead touchdown pass against a top-10 team.

No matter if it’s the position’s shortest receiver in 5-foot-10 Rantavious Wooten, the group’s biggest in 6-foot-5 Jonathon Rumph or middle-of-the-pack 6-foot freshman Reggie Davis.

“They understand that you’re one play away from being a starter,” Ball said.

Four players have caught at least 10 passes (Conley has 15, Scott-Wesley has 14, Michael Bennett has 13 and Lynch has 11). Those same four players are tied on the team for most touchdown catches with two apiece and have all surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark, with Conley and Scott-Wesley each over the 200-yard mark.

It is an intelligent group that Murray is slinging the ball to all over the field, Bobo said, and Georgia’s taking advantage.

“You’re able to make changes during a game because, one, they’ve about learned everything under the sun with their time here, and two, they’re smart enough to recall and do it in game without practice reps.”

As the season has progressed, Georgia has introduced new receiving threats to the lineup. Davis scored on a record-setting 98-yard touchdown catch against North Texas and nine players have caught at least three passes from Murray.

“That’s why I say that we have one of the best receiving corps in the nation because we can rotate guys and we won’t miss a beat on offense,” Scott-Wesley said.

Things have changed from Murray’s first season as Georgia’s starting quarterback.

When A.J. Green made his return from suspension during Murray’s first season under center, Murray went Green’s way at least twice as often as any other receiver in seven of the nine games Green played in 2010. And Green finished the season with nearly twice as many catches as any other receiver.

Through Georgia’s first four games this season, no receiver has caught more than five passes in one game.

“It’s fun as a coordinator and fun as quarterback to throw the ball based on the coverage, based on his read and not when you’re trying to force it to one guy who may be double coverage because you feel like you’re an idiot if you don’t get A.J. Green the ball six times a game,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Georgia defeated LSU.”

With the departure of that primary target, someone who became a first-round NFL draft pick and a Pro-Bowler, goes the pressure of getting him the ball. 

And so began Georgia’s collateral mission of disproving the notion that a star receiver is a necessary cog in the offense’s machine.

“I think it does disprove it a little bit and it shows that you can have multiple guys that are just as talented,” Conley said. “… [The receivers are] having to work on other areas of their game to be a viable option on every play.”

For the second consecutive season, Georgia‚Äôs receiving corps has had a starter suffer a season-ending knee injury. Last season that was Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett; this season it was Malcolm Mitchell. 

Ball’s group adapts, and a freshman, such as Davis, is able to step into the lineup.

“They’ve stepped up and [people will] be like, ‘Wow, where’d this guy come from?’ He’s played like that and practiced like that from Day One,” Conley said.

As Murray nears the SEC’s touchdown pass record — he’s sitting with 106 going into the fifth game of the season at Tennessee behind former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel’s 115 mark — Lynch said the offense can grow up even more, continuing the trend of the last two seasons.

“There’s a lot of maturity on the offensive side of the football, a lot of guys that have been in situations, been in big games, maybe not like a situation like that to that exact degree, but been in situations, had pressure moments and made plays,” Bobo said. “I think they can fall back on some of that experience. Doing it in practice, doing it in games. I think there is a level of confidence with the group because they’ve been there, done that, made plays before.”

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