Georgia's offense won't improve until players stop dropping passes
A troubling pattern has emerged in the Bulldogs’ first four games, an inability to catch the football.
It was noticeable against Nicholls State, became a little more apparent at Missouri and could not be ignored in Saturday’s complete loss to Ole Miss.
Through the first four games, Bulldogs’ receivers have combined for 17 drops. Georgia has attempted 135 passes, meaning that nearly 12.6 percent of the team’s pass attempts have resulted in a drop.
These mistakes have caused Georgia’s offense to stall on drives and prevented touchdowns. No example is as obvious or fitting as the Bulldogs’ second-quarter drive Saturday against Ole Miss.
After converting a fourth down on a well-designed fake punt, Georgia gained a small amount of momentum, which it desperately needed. The Bulldogs looked poised to cash in that gamble when Jacob Eason lofted a perfect pass that found Jayson Stanley in stride in the end zone.
The ball slid through Stanley’s arms and landed harmlessly on the turf of Vaught-Hemingway stadium. Following a second-down run, Eason once again delivered a strike to Isaiah McKenzie, who was well past the first down marker and had plenty of room to run. Instead of moving Georgia near the goal line, Eason’s pass hit McKenzie in the chest and bounced out of his grasp.
On the next play, McKenzie had an opportunity to redeem himself. Eason once again took a shot to the end zone, looking McKenzie’s way. The degree of difficulty was certainly higher than his previous drop, but the result was the same.
With a chance to score their first points of the afternoon, the Bulldogs dropped three consecutive passes and two likely touchdowns.
“We had a lot of drops, especially me,” McKenzie told reporters after the 45-14 loss. “We’ve got to come up with those big plays on third down. We’ve got to convert. We’ve just got to play better during the week, catch the ball better, focus on the ball, focus on our jobs.”
The black-and-white numbers are bad, but watching Georgia’s receivers fail to make plays while Ole Miss players caught nearly everything within reach was worse.
Georgia attempted 37 passes Saturday and only two players had more than 20 receiving yards, running back Sony Michel, who led the team with 34 yards, and Terry Godwin, who gained 25 yards.
Yes, Eason had the worst outing of his career. But there were too many times when he put a teammate in position to make a play only for that player to fail on his end.
“We did not make plays downfield in the skill positions,” coach Kirby Smart lamented on Saturday. “I can’t come in here and say they dominated the line of scrimmage against us. I can’t say they overpowered us up front. But they made plays down the field with their DBs and their receivers that we didn’t make with our receivers.”
With a true freshman delivering the ball, there are sure to be plenty of times moving forward where Georgia’s receivers need to make a catch that is more difficult that in should be. Thus far, they haven’t delivered consistently.
The run game took a step forward against Ole Miss, but Eason was brought here to take Georgia’s passing game to another level. He’s already shown he’s capable of doing that, but the frequent drops have kept the Bulldogs from taking full advantage of Eason’s abilities.
There are some issues that may be more pressing, like finding someone who can kick field goals or sacking the quarterback, but the Bulldogs won’t make anything of this season if they can’t start hanging on to the football. With defenses loading up the box to stop the run, Georgia has to make them pay through the air.
“We didn’t have many drops during the week,” McKenzie said. “Coming into the game, we were just focused on catching the ball. But, you can’t get 80 (yards) before you get 8, so we’ve got to start by just catching the ball, securing it and getting the yards we can.”
With an important division matchup against Tennessee looming, Georgia’s receivers don’t have any time to waste in turning things around. Last season, it was a late drop by Reggie Davis on a would-be touchdown that helped seal the Bulldogs’ fate in their 38-31 loss to the Vols.
There will likely be a greater emphasis placed on completing the full process of a catch this week in practice, but if Georgia wants to avoid a repeat of last year, it needs to translate on Saturday.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.