Georgia vs. Georgia Southern
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
ATHENS — Earlier in his career, Malcolm Mitchell probably would have been alarmed about a dramatic downturn in Georgia’s passing game.
For the first time in a quarter-century, Georgia has won back-to-back games with fewer than 100 yards passing. Mitchell, a senior wide receiver, said personal statistics will not be an emphasis when Georgia (7-3) plays Georgia Southern (7-2) in its final home game of the season on Saturday night.
“I’m just trying to win,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “I don’t care what we do, as long as we win. I think selfishly at the beginning I would have said something different, but now I’m closer to the end. We just need to win these last games. If that means we have less or more than 100 yards receiving, then so be it.”
Instability at quarterback, including a failed experiment to make Faton Bauta the starter, left the Bulldogs depending on their running game, defense and special teams. That formula produced wins over Kentucky and Auburn the last two weeks.
After being reinstalled as the starting quarterback, Greyson Lambert passed for only 64 yards in a 27-3 win over Kentucky and 97 yards in last week’s 20-13 win at Auburn.
It is the first time Georgia has failed to pass for 100 yards in back-to-back games since 1990. The quarterback tandem of Preston Jones and Greg Talley led the Bulldogs to wins over Southern Mississippi and Alabama that year despite combining for only 81 and 82 yards passing, respectively.
Following star tailback Nick Chubb’s season-ending knee injury against Tennessee and Bauta’s four interceptions against Florida, coach Mark Richt and his staff changed the game plans. There has been a new emphasis on the “Wild Dog” formations with direct snaps to tailback Sony Michel and receiver Terry Godwin.
Lambert did not throw an interception in the last two wins.
“He’s been a guy that we think has had a pretty healthy respect for the ball and does a good job of getting us in the right plays and the right protections,” Richt said Tuesday. “He’s had some really bright moments, too.”
Isaiah McKenzie had two touchdowns against Auburn, including one on a long punt return.
Georgia has slowed the pace on offense by scrapping the no-huddle approach.
“We didn’t really expect to lose a few of the games we lost,” said tight end Jay Rome. “We kind of had to switch things up and kind of get back to the basics and simplify things a little bit.”
The changes came as Richt faced increased pressure following Southeastern Conference losses to Tennessee, Alabama and Florida.
The offense struggled early last week, when Auburn led 10-3 at halftime. A strong finish in the win gives Georgia and Richt a chance for a strong finish to the season.
Georgia Southern may stack its defense against the run and leave man coverage on Mitchell, Godwin and other receivers. Even so, it seems unlikely Richt will put too much pressure on Lambert and the passing game.
“We just want to win,” Richt said. “However we do that, we’re happy. Bottom line. We may throw for a lot more than 70 yards or whatever. We may not. We’re going to do whatever we think gives us the best chance to win. We’re really not too worried about stats right now.”
NOTES: Richt announced tailback Keith Marshall, a fourth-year junior, will enter next year’s NFL draft. Marshall will join the seniors who will be honored before Saturday night’s game. “I blessed it,” said Richt of Marshall’s decision. “… He’s going to be graduating. He just wants to go ahead and move on and take his shot at the NFL when this season is over.” Marshall was not made available for interviews on Tuesday.