Expectations are as high as they have been in years for what Georgia football’s offense could have in store for the 2021 season. With the emergence of quarterback JT Daniels, the team has displayed a more aggressive offense in spring ball that bodes well for the upcoming fall.
Explosive plays were often missing in the past two seasons under quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Stetson Bennett. Georgia seeks to change this by focusing on improving yards after catch and yards after contact numbers. With the lack of tackling in spring practice, it is difficult to directly compare these numbers to in-season games. However, the Georgia staff still makes them a priority.
“As far as yards after catch and yards after contact, we track it on defense, we track it on offense,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. “It’s what makes you successful.”
Zamir White and James Cook will be a 1-2 punch at running back after opting to return to UGA. Their games compliment each other nearly perfectly, reminding many fans of when Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were in Athens. White is a physical runner, and showed many times last season that it takes more than one defender to tackle him. With the improved passing offense that Georgia has shown since the end of last season, it will also be difficult for defenses to focus solely on White, which should give him more one-on-one matchups that he can exploit.
Cook excels in the speed department and also has tremendous hands and route running ability. His dynamic playmaking ability allows him to play in the slot as well as in traditional running formations. This was on display when Cook scored the longest touchdown for Georgia last season in its game against Alabama. Cook lined up wide and easily beat his man for an 82-yard touchdown on a go-route. More importantly, 50 of those yards came after the catch.
“It’s very similar to the situation when Sony Michel and Nick Chubb came back,” said running backs coach Dell McGee. “From a team standpoint they wanted to do more and they’re a part of the success we can have.”
Unfortunately, Georgia will be without its most talented receiver George Pickens who suffered a torn ACL earlier in spring practice. Last season, Pickens was one of the team’s best yards after contact receivers. At 6-foot-3, Pickens could go up and make nearly any catch and still find room to run after. Pickens will miss most, if not all of the 2021 season, leaving room for other receivers to step up and show their playmaking ability.
Kearis Jackson led the Bulldogs in receiving yards last season (514) and tied with Pickens for most receptions on the team (36). However, as a slot receiver, Jackson was tied for 17th in the SEC in plays over 10 yards, which is something he’s looking to improve on.
“Coming into this season that’s gonna be a big thing for me, yards after catch,” said Jackson. “Last year I didn’t really have as much as I would like to. I’m just ready to be out there and showcase what I can be able to do. That starts in practice. If you do it in practice, you’ll do it in a game.”
Other receivers like Jermaine Burton have shown big-play ability and an increased chemistry with Daniels at the quarterback position. Burton had three catches of over 40 yards as a true freshman last season. Kirby Smart said Burton was taking reps at the X position even before Pickens’ injury, so Burton should be ready to take on a bigger role.
Tight ends will also be an important X-factor in creating explosive offensive plays in 2021. Darnell Washington is about as “can’t miss” of an athlete as one will ever see. The sophomore stands 6-7, 265 pound and can line up as a traditional tight end or as a receiver. Also, John FitzPatrick is another tight end, who could have a breakout year as well.
“Fitz deserves a lot of respect and praise for how hard he works and how well his ball skills have gotten,” said Daniels. “That whole tight end room has done a great job.”
It might not be fair to put Alabama-like expectations on Georgia’s offense, but with a full spring further developing the chemistry that began towards the end of last season, Georgia should see more big plays, courtesy of both yards after catch and contact, this fall.