Georgia has faced some dynamic running quarterbacks this year, too. Randall Cobb handled Wild Cat duties for Kentucky this season and was integral in earning a road win over the Bulldogs.
Georgia has faced some hard-running quarterbacks, too. There’s a reason Bulldogs fans will be thrilled to see Tim Tebow leave Florida after the season.
But Monday’s Independence Bowl matchup against Texas A&M will provide Georgia with an opposing quarterback that offers a little bit of everything – and that’s something the Bulldogs aren’t entirely familiar with.
“He’ll be the first of a kind,” Georgia linebacker Darryl Gamble said of Aggies’ quarterback Jerrod Johnson, one of the most versatile passers and runners in the country.
A&M’s offense is tops in the Big 12 and ranks fifth nationally, and Johnson is the engine that makes it go.
The 6-foot-5 junior has been a tremendously effective passer this season, completing nearly 61 percent of this throws, passing for more than 3,200 yards and tossing 21 touchdowns compared to just 10 interceptions.
But Johnson is hardly a one-trick pony. While defenses are forced to respect his arm, he’s just as apt to do damage with his legs, having run for 455 yards and eight touchdowns this season, too.
“Facing a guy that can move and throw the ball as well as he can, it’s a tough challenge,” defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. “You have to worry about keeping contain and you can’t have too many guys worrying about the run because he can throw the ball.”
A&M’s high-octane, up-tempo offense has been difficult for any defense to corral this season, but defensive line coach Rodney Garner said the key to slowing the Aggies down is stopping Johnson – a task that is far easier said than done.
“Their quarterback is the key,” Garner said. “He’s probably a Tebow type, and maybe a better athlete. Their high-tempo, probably the fastest-paced team we’re going to play.”
Comparing a quarterback to Tebow, the former Heisman winner, is lofty praise, but Georgia’s players aren’t stopping there when lauding the work of Johnson.
While Tebow’s arm has been occasionally questioned, Johnson has a cannon. And while Tebow plays like a fullback, bruising and powerful in his running style, Johnson has plenty of smooth moves to his credit.
“He’s the type of guy that, not only can he lower his shoulder, he can also move and juke you out,” Dobbs said. “He’s unpredictable and you can’t really say you’re going to go low on him because he’ll run right by you.”
While the Bulldogs have a full season’s worth of film of Johnson’s highlights to study, they won’t need to watch more than A&M’s final game against No. 2 Texas to understand just how dangerous Johnson is.
In what nearly proved to be an historic upset in the Aggies’ regular-season finale, Johnson carried his team against the Longhorns by throwing for 342 yards and four touchdowns and running for 97 more yards in a 49-39 loss.
It’s a challenge, no doubt, cornerback Brandon Boykin said, but it’s one he thinks Georgia is ready for.
“He’s probably one of the most athletic quarterbacks we’ll see all season, if not the most,” Boykin said. “He’s a playmaker, and with the ball in his hands, he can do a lot of things. But I feel like if we can contain him, we can contain a lot of things they do.”
Keeping Johnson contained begins with playing assignments and staying patient – a similar approach to what the Bulldogs took in a successful game plan against Georgia Tech to end the regular season.
But unlike the run-heavy attack that Tech provided, Johnson thrives on passive defenses, making it imperative that the Bulldogs attack when they can.
“He’s a big boy,” defensive tackle Kade Weston said. “You’ve got to rattle him early in the pocket, and when you hit him, you’ve got to hold on. Watching film, he’s got a tendency to break tackles and on his feet, he’s a good scrambler. We’ve got to be disciplined and take him down.”
Earlier in the season, that would have been more than simply a cause for concern for Georgia. It might have been enough reason to throw up their arms in disgust.
But the defensive approach to versatile quarterbacks has improved down the stretch, and linebacker Rennie Curran said there’s plenty of reason for hope against A&M.
“Our defensive line has definitely made huge strides in terms of containing the quarterback and just making plays when we need them,” Curran said. “And when they’re putting pressure on the quarterbacks, it helps our defensive backs and it all works together.”
That’s the plan against Johnson, even if he offers a challenge unlike any the Bulldogs have seen this season. But according to Boykin, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I feel like if we just go hit them in the mouth, that would shock a lot of people,” Boykin said. “So that’s our goal right now.”