Stafford given more responsibility

ATHENS – Matthew Stafford may be the smartest kid in his classes at the University of Georgia, but probably not.

That's OK, though, because every afternoon on the practice field and for a dozen or so Saturdays in the fall, there's no debating who's the sharpest guy in the red helmet. And, like all curve-killers, Stafford likes to be stimulated.

"He's a guy that needs to be pushed constantly and challenged on every little thing, from his footwork to how he's throwing the ball, just trying to strive for perfection," offensivecoordinator Mike Bobo said. "He thinks he's perfect sometimes so you have to stay on him."

That's the reason Stafford likes the No. 10 Bulldogs' offense more and more as the season progresses. As each week has passed, Bobo has given his quarterback more responsibility at the line of scrimmage. In each of the past two games, quarterback and coach agree, Stafford has had the option to audible on more than 70 percent of the offensive plays.

"He does enjoy it," head coach Mark Richt said. "He wants to be involved. He wants to study the game to the point where he can help get his team in the best possible situation. Some quarterbacks can't do that. Some quarterbacks don't want to do that."

The number of decisions Stafford is making as a sophomore – whether it's deciding between two running plays or a run play and a pass play – is higher than what either David Greene or D.J. Shockley ever did at Georgia, Bobo said.

"Right now there is really no limit to what we do (on offense)," Richt said. "It's just: Is this the best way to attack this defense? Then that's what we'll do because he is able to handle it."

Stafford, who has thrown for 1,798 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions and is fourth in the SEC in passing efficiency, loves the more advanced system, he said.

"It's so much more fun, and it makes us good," he said. "You're getting in the right play. You're not running into bad looks. You're not throwing into bad looks. Why not send your quarterback up there with a couple options and try to get us into the right play?

"The Colts do it every play."

That would be the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, but the Bulldogs are not a professional team and Stafford is not yet Peyton Manning, Bobo said. Georgia has no plans to go to a 100 percent audible system, Bobo said.

"You don't want your guys up there thinking all the time," he said.

Besides, the current system is working well for Georgia, which has averaged 439 yards in the two games Stafford has had the most freedom.

Bobo estimates Stafford makes the right decision 90 percent of the time, even when he goes completely off the script, which he did against Western Carolina, calling a play at the line of scrimmage that the team hadn't worked on in practice that week. The play resulted in a touchdown pass.

"It was one of those, ‘What is he doing? Oh, OK,'" Bobo said.

Bobo is fine with Stafford freelancing, he said, "as long as it's a touchdown, yeah."

"To be honest, I can't really think of a time he's been wrong," senior center Fernando Velasco said. "He's a real smart quarterback."

The Bulldogs were changing the play at the line of scrimmage less than 50 percent of the time at the beginning of the year, Velasco said.

"I think we're getting really good at it," Stafford said. "There's a lot of new stuff we're doing this year that we didn't do last year, and, as we're getting used to it, we're getting better and better at it."

As college defenses get more and more complex, it will mean quarterbacks have to take on more responsibility like Stafford has, Bobo said.

"You have to be able to get in the right (play)," Bobo said. "It's no more lining up in one or two defenses and running one or two fronts or one or two coverages. You have to have a guy who understands that."

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