ATHENS, Ga. — Branden Smith hasn’t had the football in his hands often the past few weeks, but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo wanted that to change Saturday.
So when the two spoke during the week, Bobo asked a simple question of his speedy cornerback-tailback hybrid.
“I asked him how many touches he would need to get in the end zone,” Bobo said. “He told me one.”
Smith delivered, taking a direct handoff and rushing around the right edge for a 52-yard touchdown in the first quarter — his second score of the season — helping Georgia to a dominant 38-0 win over Tennessee Tech.
“We haven’t ran that since the first game, and I try to make something happen,” Smith said. “I had one man to beat, so I tried to squeeze myself in there.”
Smith’s work on offense has been limited since his 60-yard touchdown run against South Carolina in Week 2, so he wasn’t anticipating many chances this week. Against Tennessee Tech, however, Smith had three carries and finished as the team’s second-leading rusher with 72 yards. He saw action at cornerback, too, making one tackle, which Bobo figures is enough to keep Smith’s focus on the that side of the football.
“I’d like to get him full time, but they won’t give him up,” Bobo said of the defensive coaching staff. “But he’s going to be a special player for us. He works extremely hard; he’s a very conscientious kid, tough kid. He’s got to put some muscle on, but he’s tough and plays hard and physical.”
For two seasons, Mark Richt has seen the flags fly for his team. Georgia ranks among the most penalized programs in the country, and after last week’s loss to Florida, Richt had seen enough.
He issued an edict during practice that any player who was flagged for a penalty during Saturday’s game would be immediately benched — a stern warning that, as it turned out, resulted in a lot of substitutions against Tennessee Tech.
“I might have gotten them so tight that they couldn’t hold still,” Richt said. “It sends a message, but it also might get guys as tight as they can get.”
Georgia was flagged for 11 penalties for a total of 86 yards, and each time the player responsible for the infraction trotted to the sideline and took a seat on the bench.
It was frustrating for the players, but it may have been downright bewildering for the coaches who were forced to make routine substitutions.
“It was a little bit difficult but obviously we’ve got to do something to stop the penalties,” Bobo said. “Those are hard to overcome and will cost you, and they cost us touchdowns (Saturday).”
Six of Georgia’s 11 penalties were for false starts by the offensive line, and that was a result of some particularly loud yelps from the Tennessee Tech front four.
Quarterback Joe Cox said one of the Golden Eagles’ defensive lineman would bark similar cadence to his snap count, and it was causing Georgia’s linemen to flinch with regularity.
“It was tough to get used to, and I think they figured, ‘We’re pushing them back every time we do this, so let’s keep doing it,’ ” Cox said.
QB Gray gets in action
As promised, Richt sent backup quarterback Logan Gray onto the field for a full series in the first half, but the results weren’t exactly what fans had hoped for from Georgia’s second-string quarterback.
Gray’s first drive followed five straight scoring drives led by Cox, and it ended with an interception in the end zone after Gray threw into double coverage. It was the game’s only turnover.
“It happened, and I had to move on from it,” Gray said. “Throwing a pick in the end zone is not what I wanted, but I was glad to get back in the game and try to make some more plays, and I felt comfortable as the game went on, and it was good to get some back-to-back snaps.”
Gray rebounded while he got more work in the second half, and while he didn’t lead Georgia to points, he finished 4-of-5 passing for 25 yards, and Bobo said he liked what he saw from his backup quarterback.
“Logan has been working extremely hard to get better and become a complete quarterback,” Bobo said. “It’s good to see him play (Saturday) and get some extended time. The first half, the throw, I think he waited a little too long. The second half, he was able to get up in the pocket, make some throws, move in the pocket and have a couple nice runs.”
Tight ends make catches
With the success of the ground game, Georgia didn’t need to throw the ball often Saturday, but when it did, the tight ends were the primary targets.
Orson Charles, Aron White and Arthur Lynch tallied seven of Georgia’s 14 receptions Saturday, including a 23-yard touchdown grab by Charles.
“I think we took what the defense gave us,” Cox said. “We have good tight ends, and if they’re going to cover our receivers and leave our tight ends open, I have no problem throwing it to them.”
Lynch’s two catches were the first of his career, and the seven receptions by tight ends were the most by the position since Leonard Pope and Martrez Milner combined for nine catches against Auburn in 2005.
“I’m pretty sure we have something to look forward to when we watch film, and I just can’t wait to go to practice, just knowing that the coaches trust in us throwing the ball to us,” Charles said.