Focus on Green lets others shine
By David Hale
ATHENS, Ga. — Around Georgia, fans already knew about wide receiver A.J. Green, but it wasn’t until his breakthrough performance against Arizona State last season that he really hit the big time.
Then a freshman playing in his fourth game, Green had 150 yards receiving in the first half and immediately shifted from talented prospect to legitimate star.
It’s probably too soon to say whether the same progress might be made by a trio of young receivers as the Bulldogs prepare to host Arizona State tonight at Sanford Stadium. But after last week’s victory in Arkansas, there are plenty of encouraging signs.
Freshman receiver Tavarres King and freshman tight end Orson Charles each hauled in their first career touchdown passes, while sophomore tight end Aron White also scored, helping Georgia put up 52 points and more than 500 yards of offense.
“We haven’t peaked yet,” said King, who has six catches for 95 yards. “We still have a lot of work to do, some stuff to clean up. We’ve had a lot of self-inflicted wounds that we need to turn into positives. I feel like nobody’s seen nothing yet.”
If that’s the case, then defenses are in for a long season against Georgia.
The Bulldogs scored 93 points the past two weeks. The season began with dozens of question marks on offense, but the playmaking ability of the team’s youngsters has developed faster than expected.
When Georgia opened its season against Oklahoma State, it was Green who drew the most attention from the defense. He was the only returning starter at an offensive skill position for the Bulldogs, and the coaches knew he would command double teams nearly every play.
That gave Georgia’s younger receivers a chance. And, last week against Arkansas, they delivered — with White, Charles and King combining for five catches, 147 yards and three touchdowns.
“This is the first step of other guys stepping up and making big plays when people are trying to double A.J,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “Arkansas had a good plan trying to play Cover 2 to A.J.’s side, and it was leaving a lot of other holes. It was leaving Tavarres one-on-one. It was leaving linebackers on Orson and Aron. And we took advantage of it.”
Green was no slouch against the Razorbacks either. He caught seven passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo expects defenses to continue approaching Georgia the same way. He said the film study the Bulldogs do before the game is often little preparation for game day, as teams employ new schemes to defend Green.
But the more that happens, Bobo said, the more opportunities Georgia will have to exploit the focus on Green.
“They were basically doubling (Green) the whole game, and other guys have got to step up and make some plays,” Bobo said. “Those guys are young, but they came here to play and make plays, and they’re going to get opportunities.”
For King, the touchdown pass against Arkansas was a dream come true, and Green said his teammate planned to save the gloves he wore as a memento.
For White, last week’s touchdown wasn’t his first, but it did mark a turning point for him. Last season, he grabbed two touchdowns, but he was a reserve, and his opportunities came mostly in mop-up duty. Against Arkansas, his touchdown was crucial — the first score in a game that quickly turned into a shoot-out.
Charles may have the most potential of the three. He already is the team’s second-leading receiver with six catches for 146 yards.
Together, the group could be a productive combination for years.
“Every time Tavarres or Orson or Aron make a play, you can see they get more confidence,” Cox said. “It gives the coaches confidence in their play-calling, knowing that we don’t just have to throw to A.J. and Mike (Moore), that we have guys all over the field that can make plays.”