UGA Football

Why Georgia hasn’t turned to screen game much this season

Nick Chubb carries the ball against Auburn.
Nick Chubb carries the ball against Auburn. Georgia Sports Communications

A fan-driven criticism coming out of last Saturday’s 40-17 loss to Auburn was that Georgia needed to throw the ball to the running backs more.

With the Tigers employing an aggressive defense up front, the thought is that Georgia should have run some screens to combat it.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said hitting the screen game against Auburn was easy in theory. With the Tigers loading the box and playing man coverage against the running backs in passing situations, screens weren’t open.

And that has been the case for most of the season. As long as Georgia’s run game has been there, opposing teams have done their part to key on the backs. Auburn became the only team to stop the run while ensuring the backs wouldn’t break out as receivers.

Employing man coverage on running backs is the easiest way to prevent a screen pass. And as long as teams use this tactic, the screen game may not be open anytime soon.

“It’s hard to do the way people play us,” Smart said. “We don’t see traditional coverages. People don’t play us the way we play people. The way people play us a lot of times is to take the run away. A lot of times it’s like that. It’s not as simple as calling a screen play. There’s more to it than that. We’re trying to find ways to get the backs the ball because we’ve got a lot of backs. But they covered our backs out of the backfield last week. They covered our backs out of the slot. You’re always trying to find a way to get them the ball. There’s no easy way against good defenses.”

Before the season started, there was a lot of talk about using Sony Michel, Brian Herrien and D’Andre Swift as receivers, whether it was out of the backfield or in the slot. Swift has had the most success as a receiving target as he is fourth on the team in receiving with 12 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.

But Michel only has three catches for 17 yards and Herrien has two grabs for 1 yard.

While there was an effort to coach these backs as receiving targets, it really hasn’t materialized much this season.

Another reason why Georgia hasn’t utilized screens much is due to how the outside receivers have blocked the play in practice.

“You have to have somebody go block somebody for the screen,” Smart said. “We don’t always do that real well. It’s something we worked really hard on. But our perimeter receives blocking on screens hasn’t been a big success for us.”

With Georgia’s offense sputtering like it did against Auburn, Smart noted that coaches are always trying to spice things up and seek an edge against upcoming opponents. Whether that has to do with finding ways to get the running backs involved in the passing game remains to be seen.

“You’re always trying to reinvent the wheel,” Smart said. “You look for new ideas, new plays but you can’t throw everything away and start anew. You got certain plays you run and you’ve run them since camp. You try to window-dress them some different ways. You try to execute better, protect better, give the quarterback a chance, maybe give him some easier throws but you’re not trying to change everything.”