Prior to the start of the 2021 season, Georgia’s offense suffered several blows to its wide receiving corps, a group that was finally supposed to take the Bulldogs to the next step after several years of pedestrian offensive play.
Then the injuries struck. George Pickens tore his ACL. Dominick Blaylock has a hamstring injury after tearing his ACL in the summer of 2020. Kearis Jackson had knee surgery in the offseason and missed the first three games. Jermaine Burton has played this season but has been working through a groin injury.
If the young receivers did not step up, it was going to be another average year for the Georgia offense. Thankfully for head coach Kirby Smart, they did just that, and the Bulldogs are currently the country’s top team.
Smart shed some light on his young receivers’ success earlier this week.
“I think spring practice, No. 1 was a big help because the guys who have contributed were here in the spring, and they got a lot of experience in the spring,” Smart said. “Year two in the system for a lot of the other guys … it allows them to be successful.”
Georgia has 12 wide receivers on their roster in their first or second year with the team. Six of them have recorded catches this year and four have at least one touchdown catch.
Ladd McConkey, a redshirt freshman, is the team’s top wide receiver and trails only tight end Brock Bowers in both receptions and yardage this season. True freshman Adonai Mitchell has been a big contributor as well, playing in all six of Georgia’s games and starting in the last four. He has 11 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
Georgia run game is critical to passing success
Further, the success of Georgia’s run game has opened up opportunities for the young wideouts while alleviating some of the pressure on the first and second year players.
“The run game allows them to be successful because some of the plays that we’re hitting are play action plays,” Smart said. “As long as they’re able to honor that and be successful in the run game… Our goal is 5.5 a rush. That doesn’t mean we’re going to rush the ball for 5.5 yards a time, but if we can be effective and stay ahead of the chains, it allows us to be effective in the play action pass game.”
Georgia is averaging nearly 200 yards per game on the ground with 13 rushing touchdowns. They have not matched the elite run games of 2017 and 2018 which led the SEC, but as Smart said, the veteran backs are doing enough to open up the pass game.
On the tight end front, Georgia is playing a lot of 13 personnel snaps, plays with one running back and three tight ends. Production from the position helps take some of the pressure off the wide receivers as well.