Georgia's struggling receivers

ATHENS - Georgia knew its offensive line would struggle this season. And the coaches fretted and fretted about who would replace Musa Smith in the backfield.

The wide receivers, though, were supposed to pick up the slack. Instead, they've joined the rest of the offense in a hit-and-miss cycle that has the Bulldogs sputtering along at 68th in the country in scoring offense (26 ppg).

"At times our receivers have been outstanding, and at times they've struggled," Coach Mark Richt said. "I was hoping we'd make more plays out there, but there is still a lot of football to be played."

The No. 7 Bulldogs (7-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) play Auburn (6-4, 4-2) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Sanford Stadium. The game will be televised by CBS.

"This is one of those games where one player or one play can make a difference," Richt said. "I'm sure those guys will get an opportunity to make a difference."

It was one year ago in the Auburn game when a Georgia receiver, Michael Johnson, made the biggest play in the last decade of Bulldog football - catching a 19-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to clinch the SEC East title for Georgia. It's the kind of play the Bulldogs long for this year.

Georgia is fourth in the SEC in passing offense (24.19 ypg) but has just eight receiving touchdowns, and three of those came from running backs or tight ends. Eight players in the SEC have as many or more touchdowns than the Bulldogs' wide receivers combined.

"I wouldn't say disappointed. I wouldn't use that word," receivers coach John Eason said. "I'll just say I expect more."

Since Gibson caught a 56-yard touchdown pass against Clemson on the fourth offensive play of the season, Georgia's receivers have only two touchdown catches of longer than 5 yards. (Damien Gary had a 16-yard score against UAB, and Johnson had an 11-yard score against Tennessee).

"We feel like our receiving corps is as good as anybody in the SEC," quarterback David Greene said. "We've got guys who can make plays. We've got all the talent in the world. We're disappointed that the whole offense isn't making more big plays."

Richt acknowledged that he's grown hesitant to take shots down the field to his receivers due to Georgia's inconsistent pass protection.

"I probably haven't given them enough chances," he said, "but they're allowed to make people miss and get more yards after contact."

They're also allowed to catch the ball, but drops have been a recurring problem. The Bulldogs have dropped three or more passes in four games this year, including both of their losses. Fred Gibson dropped three two weeks ago against Florida in his first game since a two-week layoff necessitated by a knee injury.

Overall, Gibson has missed three games due to injury, highlighting the group's recurring health problems. Gibson (hamstring, knee), Johnson (shoulder), Reggie Brown (hamstring), Mario Raley (foot) and Sean Bailey (hamstring) have missed a total of 11 games, and Macon native Cedric Haywood (knee), who would have been a second-teamer, was lost before the season started. Senior Damien Gary is the only receiver to play in every game, and none have started every game.

"It's been difficult getting in a groove because people haven't been there," said Brown, who leads the team with 36 catches for 454 yards. "I wouldn't say we've been a disappointment, but I think we can do a lot better. "

The missed practice time has hurt the receivers both in their consistency catching the ball and in their blocking, Richt said.

"You can stand there and catch balls off a Juggs machine all day long," he said, but playing a live game "is a different deal, for sure. It's tough to stay consistent when you're not practicing."

If all of the Bulldogs make it to the field Saturday as expected, it will be the first time since the Sept. 13 South Carolina game that they've all been healthy enough to play.

"We know what's out there right now, and we know what we have do do as receivers," Gibson said. "We have to go out and make big plays."

UGA receivers
Player, year Rec. Yds
Reggie Brown, Jr. 36 454*
Damien Gary, Sr. 32 393
Fred Gibson, Jr. 18 267
Michael Johnson, Sr. 16 186
Bryan McClendon, So. 11 162
Mario Raley, So. 7 71
Sean Bailey, Fr. 3 37
Jarrett Berry, Sr. 1 9
*Ranks eighth in the SEC

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