The Bulldogs are unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the country, thanks in part to an offense that leads the Southeastern Conference in yards gained and is second in points scored. Shockley is the highest-rated passer in league and second in total offense.
But, there on Georgia’s first drive of the second half against Mississippi State, was the chink in his armor. On first-and-10 from Mississippi State’s 18-yard line, Shockley overthrew tight end Leonard Pope in the end zone. Yep, 6-foot-9 Leonard Pope, just zipped it right over his head.
“He’s made some throws that not many guys can make, period,” Coach Mark Richt said. “He’ll make those throws and then there are some that seem a little more simple, and he’ll miss them.”
Shockley is eighth in the SEC in completion percentage at 59.8. Some of that is attributable to dropped passes but at least as much is the result of errant throws.
“You’re not going to hit every pass,” quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said. “It’s frustrating for everybody when a guy is wide open, but people miss guys and you throw incompletions. The big thing for me is his knowledge and understanding. He’s doing a good job of that. As long as we keep the mental errors down, he’s going to hit a good percentage of his passes.”
The four quarterbacks behind D.J. Shockley in completion percentage -- Kentucky’s Andre Woodson, Ole Miss’ Michael Spurlock, Mississippi State’s Omarr Conner and Arkansas’ Robert Johnson -- have five wins between them.
In Georgia’s first four games, all the good things Shockley has done have outweighed his middling accuracy rate, but all of his mistakes are about to get magnified as the Bulldogs’ margin for error decreases. Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC) takes on No. 8 Tennessee (3-1, 2-1) on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.
“If you can’t hit your targets, your offense is not going to move at all,” said Shockley, adding accuracy is “always a top priority.”
Georgia’s coaches have few fears that Shockley will rise to the challenge of facing the Vols because he has stepped up in the few pressure situations the Bulldogs have faced this year. For instance, there’s the third-down completion to Bryan McClendon to help seal a 17-15 victory over South Carolina.
“There are a lot of opportunities where he has missed some open guys, but he has made a lot of clutch throws for us in crucial third downs,” Bobo said. “I’m pleased with his progress, his accuracy and his leadership. He’s doing all the right things and getting better every week.”
Shockley’s mechanics or delivery are fine and most of his misses come from rushing a throw, Richt said. Bobo agreed with that and added that Shockley has always had the tendency to throw the ball without much loft, which contributed to his career completion percentage of 50 percent coming into the season.
“He gets geeked up sometimes,” Bobo said, “and he tends to throw it a little flat sometimes instead of just having a little touch and giving it to a guy.”
Shockley’s occasional troubles controlling the ball have not hurt him in the turnover department. Only one SEC regular quarterback has fewer than his two interceptions.
“Most of the times when I throw high, it is a little adrenaline pumping, but sometimes it’s just a bad ball,” he said. “Sometimes you just miss.”