ATHENS, Ga. — With apologies to A.J. Green, Georgia would rather have plenty of options.
The Bulldogs hope to keep mixing things up when they face Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
Aaron Murray and No. 5 Georgia (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) have been getting nearly everyone in on the offensive act through the first quarter of the season. Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett have each had 100-yard receiving games. In last week’s blowout of Florida Atlantic, freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall rushed for more than 100 yards apiece.
There’s no one the quality of Green, a wondrous receiver who played for the Bulldogs from 2008-10 before moving on the NFL.
If this keeps up, there doesn’t need to be.
“Most definitely, you like to have as many weapons as you can have,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “I remember when we had A.J. Green. Now, he was an outstanding player. But in 2009 and 2010, we’d get a different type coverage than we saw on film. They’d play something totally different to take him away.”
It’s hard to do that these days.
Start with Murray, a junior who’s got the experience to spot holes in the defense and the skills to get the ball to the right guy. He’s closing in on the school record for touchdown passes, tied for second place on the list with Eric Zeier (67 each) and just five away from mark held by David Greene.
There is no shortage of potential targets. Bennett, Brown and King already have double-figure receptions. Eight other players have at least one catch, including two-way player Malcolm Mitchell, who has been spending most of his time on defense. Once the Bulldogs get back to full strength on that side of the line, Mitchell is expected to spend more time with the offense.
“More weapons is always better,” Bobo said.
Last week, the Bulldogs put up a school-record 713 yards against Florida Atlantic. Of course, the quality of competition will get much tougher now that Georgia is getting into the meat of its SEC schedule — Vanderbilt begins a stretch of seven straight league games — but it was still an impressive display.
Overall, Georgia ranks second in the conference in scoring (47.3 a game), displaying good balance between the passing game (third with a 295-yard average) and the ground attack (fourth at 222.7). The Bulldogs feel so good about their depth at receiver they’ve spiced up the scheme with more three- and four-receiver formations.
“We’re comfortable as an offense,” Murray said. “Coach Bobo has put a lot of trust in me and in the receivers to run great routs and get open and make plays. We feel great with our progress. There’s still work to be done and guys who still need to get comfortable in the four-receiver set, but we’re doing well.”
Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1) is still seeking the sort of victory that will truly signal a change in direction at the perennial SEC backwater. Coach James Franklin has made it clear the Commodores will no longer make excuses or accept mediocrity, but they still haven’t beaten a ranked SEC team since 2008.
Georgia has won 16 of the last 17 meetings between the teams.
“It would definitely be a great win for us,” Vandy tailback Wesley Tate said. “Any win is obviously great and it’s all the same to me, but a win against Georgia would be important for our season.”
Under Franklin, the Commodores definitely appear positioned for a breakthrough. They have lost five of their last six SEC games by an average of 4.6 points — the largest margin of defeat in that span a six-point overtime setback to Tennessee at the end of last season. Vanderbilt gave No. 7 South Carolina a scare in the season opener, losing 17-13.
“Sometimes we forget where the program was when we got here and where we’re going,” Franklin said. “Sometimes we get caught up week-to-week in the wins and tough losses. I’m thinking big picture. To me, every win for us is signature. Some wins are probably bigger to the fans and to the media, but internally, we’re just trying to get a win always. We look at it like we’re building this program every single day and week.”
The Commodores switched up at quarterback last week, turning to transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels in a rout of lower-division Presbyterian. He is expected to start against Georgia, though former No. 1 Jordan Rodgers — the younger brother of Green Bay star Aaron Rodgers — could get back into the mix if the offense falters.
“Doing it against Presbyterian is one thing. Doing it against Georgia is another,” Franklin said. But, he quickly added, “If we didn’t feel like Austyn could handle things against Georgia, we wouldn’t have made the changes against Presbyterian.”
Last year, the Commodores nearly knocked off Georgia in Nashville. After rallying from a 16-point deficit, a blocked punt in the closing seconds gave Vanderbilt a shot for the upset. But the Bulldogs turned away two final cracks at the end zone, preserving a 33-28 victory.
There were some chippy plays during the game, and things really turned ugly afterward. Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham got into a screaming match on the field and had to be separated.
Neither expects any carry-over to Saturday night.
“It gets heated out there,” Grantham said. “It’s really not a big deal.”