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Post Georgia’s other two-way player: getting the ball to Branden Smith

Wednesday August 15, 2012

Many of Chris Brown’s posts over at Smart Football are great jumping-off points because they introduce concepts that lead you to wonder how your team might use them. This post about a reverse to the wide (or slot) receiver is a good example. Back to that in a second.

There’s no question that Malcolm Mitchell will play a role on both sides of the ball this year. Those roles, the number of plays he’ll see, and the tug-of-war between coaches on offense and defense have been some of the most-covered stories of the offseason.

But Georgia has another player who’s seen more than a couple of snaps on both sides of the ball in his three seasons. Smith has developed into a likely senior starter at cornerback. He’s made plays on special teams. But if you had to identify Smith with a single play, it would still be this play on offense as a freshman against South Carolina:

It seems as if Smith has been chasing that play for the rest of his career. He arrived at Georgia with even more two-way hype than Mitchell. The Champ Bailey comparisons were out there even before the South Carolina game. His electrifying run off the reverse and startling acceleration set a high bar, and it’s been tough living up to the expectations that came from just one play – at least on offense.

As a freshman in 2009 Smith ran the ball 17 times for 208 yards. He scored twice. In the two years since, Smith has a total of only 19 carries and 146 yards. His lone touchdown since his freshman season came against New Mexico State last year. As a receiver, Smith has been less productive: through three seasons he has seven receptions for 63 yards and no scores. Nearly all of those receptions have come on some sort of flare or screen. Without establishing much of a downfield threat, Smith’s repertoire on offense has been limited to those screens or direct handoffs, and it’s no doubt limited his production as defenses learn what to expect from him.

That brings us back to Brown’s post. Smith obviously has something to offer the offense, but the selection of plays is limited. The play Brown illustrates is one that seems right down Smith’s (not to mention Mitchell’s) alley. It looks a bit like a reverse, but it’s not a trick play – it’s actually a pretty straightforward running play. The key difference is the faked inside run. On Smith’s reverse against the Gamecocks, the tailback makes the pitch and is more or less out of the play after drawing the defense to the wrong side of the field. By faking the inside handoff to the eventual side of the run, the tailback stays in the play to become the lead blocker. The motion away from the direction of the run helps to draw the defense just as a reverse does.

Could it work for Georgia? Murray is more than mobile enough to execute his part. The Dawgs have several tough tailbacks who could lead the run. And Smith and Mitchell are exactly the kind of big-play speed guys who could break a long run on this play. Of course this is just one wrinkle of many an offense could use. If Smith is going to get plays on offense again – and there’s no reason to think he won’t – it’s worth exploring some different ways to help him realize the potential he showed as a freshman.

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