Then came South Carolina, which had better athletes than the steamrolled Broncos of Boise State and, maybe more importantly, a much more effective scheme, man-to-man coverage, specifically press coverage.
The result? Four Bulldogs caught eight passes for 112 yards and quarterback D.J. Shockley threw two interceptions. The result of that? Georgia will see press coverage a lot more this season unless its wide receivers can figure out how to handle it better than they did against the Gamecocks.
“It’s like when a team presses you in basketball,” junior receiver Sean Bailey said. “If it works, they’ll keep doing it. If you burn them once or twice, they aren’t going to want to come up there anymore.”
If Bulldog coach Mark Richt had his choice, he might have today’s opponent, Louisiana-Monroe (0-2), play press coverage all day against the No. 7 Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 SEC). His team clearly needs the work.
The Bulldogs fared OK against regular man-to-man coverage, Richt said, but struggled particularly against press coverage, in which a cornerback or safety lines up right in a receiver’s face on the line of scrimmage and hits or “jams” him when the ball is snapped. Across the board, Georgia’s receivers have failed to separate from defenders in that alignment.
Although Shockley would never call out his receivers, he definitely noticed a difference. Against Boise State’s zone defense, he threw for 289 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Against Boise, we had so much green to throw to,” he said.
Against South Carolina, the main colors he saw were garnet and black. The Gamecocks picked off two of his passes and could have had more. Some of the blame for that lies with Shockley, who was making just his second start, but some of it lies with the receivers.
“Our route-running left a lot to be desired,” Richt said. “It’s a route-running issue more than a physicality issue. There’s a physical nature to it, but it’s more about our releases. We have to get off the jam by how we run our routes.”
For example, on the pass that South Carolina safety Ko Simpson tipped and cornerback Johnathan Joseph ran back for a touchdown, Bailey did two things wrong, according to Richt and wide receivers coach John Eason.
First, he didn’t come back toward the ball when it was thrown.
“That’s one of the most basic fundamentals,” Richt said. “We harp on it.”
He also didn’t run the route correctly, Eason said, and it was a problem for many of the Bulldog receivers. Georgia ran several crossing routes, a preferred route against man-to-man coverage, in that game, and it seemed like the Gamecocks’ Simpson cut in front of every one of them.
That’s because the Bulldogs didn’t adjust the route for man coverage, Eason said. Against a zone defense, running a crossing route is simple. The receiver cuts diagonally across the field and runs a straight line. However, against man-to-man coverage, the Bulldogs are taught to put a “stair step” into the route, meaning they keep turning the route deeper and deeper in a stair pattern.
“You have to get (the defender) to turn their shoulder pads,” Eason said. “Then you can step and get away from him.”
The Bulldogs felt Bailey was their most adept receiver against tight man coverage. That was before he posted this statistical line against South Carolina: 0 catches for 0 yards. He certainly wasn’t the only one who had a problem, though.
Further into the routes, Georgia’s receivers simply aren’t giving head fakes or what the Bulldogs call “stick” moves, faking one way before continuing the route. South Carolina “had no fear of any sort of double-move,” Richt said.
Eason said his young players just need more repetitions in practice. The receivers think they need more patience.
“We want to release off that line so in a lot of cases we’re not giving a good move,” senior Bryan McClendon said.
“You have to be patient to sell the move,” Bailey said. “If you give the defensive back a real quick move, he doesn’t have time to react so when you take off to go, he’s still there.”
The bad news for the Bulldogs is those defenders aren’t going anywhere until they make a few plays on the perimeter.