The Bulldogs knew they had plenty of talent in the backfield. But two tight ends with at least 199 receiving yards each? And five wide receivers with 76 or more yards and three or more catches? No one expected that.
“We’ve gotten a lot of guys involved, and I like it,” Coach Mark Richt said. “I’m all for it. No matter who is out there, if they’re making plays, I’m excited.”
Heading into Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt, the No. 5 Bulldogs (5-0, 3-0 SEC) are the most balanced team in the SEC by several measures. Running back Thomas Brown averages more offensive yards than any player on the team, but his 84-yard average ranks only eighth in the SEC among team leaders.
Georgia leads the league and is seventh in the nation in total offense (455.6), but Brown is responsible for just 18.4 percent of those yards. That’s the lowest percentage among team leaders in the conference.
The Bulldogs are spreading the ball around more than they ever have in the Richt era, he said. So much so, in fact, that it reminds him of his days running Florida State’s no-huddle offense, he said.
“It helps morale; it helps people stay healthy, and it shows everyone you’re a team and you’re not too reliant on one person,” he said. “All those things help you win.”
Twelve Bulldogs have scored at least one touchdown this year. That’s more than any team in the league other than South Carolina, which also has had a dozen different players reach the end zone. Thirteen Georgia players average at least 10 all-purpose yards per game, a number only Auburn and its 14 can top; and 11 Georgia players have caught three or more passes this year, which is more than any SEC team other than Auburn (11).
A team with multiple options causes multiple headaches for defensive coordinators, Georgia’s Willie Martinez said.
“You always look defensively, ‘Who’s the deep guy?’ ‘Who’s the possession guy?’ ‘Who’s the go-to guy?’ Once you start adding more than two, that becomes a problem because you can’t zero in on one guy,” Martinez said. “You have to worry about the other guy. That presents a lot of problems, there’s no doubt about it.”
Georgia is second in the SEC in passing yards (257.6 ypg), but no Bulldog appears in the top 10 in catches per game and tight end Leonard Pope is the highest-rated Bulldog in receiving yards at 10th. The same thing holds true for the running game. The Bulldogs are second in the conference in rushing (198 ypg), but Brown ranks just seventh in the individual rankings.
Danny Ware, Georgia’s second-leading rusher, admits there’s a downside to the Bulldogs’ balance.
“Everybody wants to get the ball and be a playmaker, but sometimes you have to sit back and relax and let the other person get his turn,” he said. “It’s kind of frustrating sometimes, but you look at it like you signed on to play as a team.”
The receivers have managed to share fairly well, quarterback D.J. Shockley said.
“There’s not too much complaining because everybody knows at any given time they could get the ball,” he said. “ Sometimes it could go here, and sometimes it could go there.”
From a team standpoint, and Richt’s standpoint, there aren’t any negatives to this way of doing things.
“If you have one or two guys making plays, then you can have defenses find a way to shut down those guys or make you use other folks,” he said, “but we’re already using them.”