ATHENS -- Early in Georgia’s season opener Saturday, a Bulldogs fan in Ohio sent out the following plea over Twitter: “Man, we gotta make some plays!! Someone step up!”
The fan expressing frustration with Georgia’s inability to score points was A.J. Green. It was only appropriate.
In the offseason, the main emphasis was on fixing the Georgia running game. Judging by the opener, the passing game might be an issue too. At least for one game, the Bulldogs and quarterback Aaron Murray missed Green and fellow receiver Kris Durham, each now in the NFL after helping stretch defenses last year.
The Georgia offense was a struggle all-around, with Murray getting sacked six times, the tailbacks averaging barely more than 3 yards per carry and the passing game not getting going until late.
When the struggles of his unit were brought up this week, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo pointed to getting in too many third-and-long situations. Georgia ended the game 2-for-13 on third downs. Last year the team converted 40 percent of the time.
Then again, last year the team had more ability to convert in those third-and-long situations. Green and Durham were each tall receivers who had the ability to make yards after the catch as well as beat cornerbacks downfield. In the second half against Boise State, Murray was trying downfield heaves to Rantavious Wooten, a 5-foot-10 junior coming off a seven-catch season in 2010.
Bobo wasn’t blaming Murray.
“I thought Murray played well,” Bobo said. “I thought his eyes were in the right spot every time. I thought he was going to the right guy. He was high on a couple throws, but you’re not gonna hit every one. I thought he was on top of his game, and going to the right guys.”
Much of the time, the right guy ended up being tight end Orson Charles. Freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell also had a 51-yard touchdown catch, but the veterans who were expected to step into Green and Durham’s place were largely absent.
Junior Tavarres King, who shifted into the featured receiver role, only had a 3-yard catch, dropping two more. King blamed himself for the drops, which each came on short passes and could have turned into bigger plays.
“I lost focus. I had two drops, two big drops,” King said. “But in this business you’ve gotta have a real short memory. That’s in the past, and I put it behind me as soon as it happened. Even the greatest drop balls. So I’m fine.”
Marlon Brown, the other wideout starter, had just two catches, none in the second half.
Brown being a non-factor was a surprise given how much he was talked up by coaches in the preseason.
Still, Bobo expressed faith in his receivers this week.
“I really believe we’ve got several go-to guys,” Bobo said. “I think when their number’s called we’ve gotta make the play. We’ve got several guys. There’s not one A.J. Green we’re gonna force-feed. I think you’ve got a chance to be better when you’ve got more than one guy.”
Much of the emphasis going forward will also be on using the no-huddle offense to gain an advantage over defense. The change, unveiled in the Georgia Dome, ended up being the surprise sprung from an offseason of work and occasional secrecy.
It just didn’t work.
The goal was to increase the number of plays for the offense per game.
Georgia ended up with 60 plays in the opener, which was under their average of 62.1 from last season. Boise had 71.
But Bobo said the Bulldogs “committed” to the no-huddle going forward, including Saturday against No. 12 South Carolina.
“We went and looked to last year, and when we had more opportunities to score in the red zone we were very efficient,” Bobo said. “But we just didn’t have as many opportunities as some other teams, and we scored points (when we did). But we thought more plays would equal more opportunities and more chance to get points on the board. That’s the main thing, to get more chance and more opportunities.”
Head coach Mark Richt was asked after Wednesday’s practice if the receivers were better than they showed against Boise State. Richt at first pushed back, asking what they did wrong, then after King’s drops were brought up, saying King “was better than that.”
“I think we have a talented wide receiving corps, I really do,” Richt said. “If you’re watching them practice every they’ve got ability. But we’ve all got to make the plays when our number’s called. And we’ve got to get some momentum and everybody will join the party. But we’ve gotta get it going.”