ATHENS — It may have been a bit unexpected for the fans watching the game, but Georgia head coach Mark Richt insisted that Joe Cox’s breakout five-touchdown performance in a 52-41 win over Arkansas on Saturday was hardly surprise to his teammates. They’d seen him make big plays over and over in practice for the past five years.
“He has a knack for hitting guys on the run, and he’s been doing it in practice for years,” Richt said. “He’s the most accurate practice passer we have had around here for a while. He has a good touch and a good anticipation of where he wants to go with the ball.”
Where he wanted to go with the ball against Arkansas was downfield, and Cox did it with precision, repeatedly embarrassing the Razorbacks’ secondary and helping Georgia rack up 530 yards of offense.
It was a stark departure from the months of critiquing by analysts during the offseason and the weeks of criticism he endured following a rough start to the season. But while Cox rarely drew favorable comparisons to his predecessor, Matthew Stafford, it took him just three games to match the former Georgia quarterback’s record for touchdown passes in a game.
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“The one thing I can say about Joe is that he doesn’t let anybody bring him down,” said receiver A.J. Green, who had seven catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns Saturday. “We’re a family, and we’re going to support Joe any way we can, but he’s a great leader and he doesn’t let that stuff bother him.”
While Stafford was blessed with a big arm, it took him 27 starts before his first 300-yard passing performance. Cox did it in just four, and his 375 yards through the air Saturday were bested by Stafford just twice in his career.
Of course, the game plan against the Razorbacks had a lot to do with Cox’s success, as well. The Bulldogs went to the air repeatedly and Cox delivered a bevy of big plays, including touchdowns of 21, 25, 50, 44 and 28 yards.
“Coming into the game we knew we could throw the ball on them and Coach (Mike Bobo) said we were going to be pretty aggressive with the play calling,” said wide receiver Michael Moore, who tied a career high with six catches for 91 yards. “We just went out there and made plays, and Joe was putting the ball on the money.”
Where Georgia’s offense languished in a vanilla game plan in Week 1 and was saddled with costly turnovers in Week 2, the Bulldogs managed to diversify the playbook against Arkansas, and the results were dramatic. Tavarres King and Orson Charles each caught their first career touchdown passes, and Caleb King and Richard Samuel combined for more than 160 yards on the ground.
But it was Cox who was the star, bringing his season completion percentage to 62.5 percent — better than the 61.4 percent posted by Stafford a year ago. His performance Saturday earned Cox the Walter Camp offensive player of the week honors, and more importantly, it earned Georgia its second SEC win of the season.
Whether it’s enough to permanently quiet the critics, however, Moore isn’t so sure.
“I’m sure the critics will find something negative to say about him,” Moore said. “They always do. But Joe’s a fighter, and this just shows what type of guy he is. He had his back against the wall the last two games, and he went out and had big games.”