ATHENS -- Hutson Mason knows what’s coming. He knows Georgia’s opponents, probably starting with the next one, are going to dare Mason and his right arm to beat them.
Mason invites them to do so.
“We can’t be naive,” he said. “I’m sure South Carolina when they get to prepping for us is gonna think, ‘Load the box.’ I hope they do. We’re gonna throw it. And I hope we throw it the first play of the game.”
Todd Gurley and the Bulldogs’ other tailbacks stole the headlines in the opener. Led by Todd Gurley, the Bulldogs racked up 328 rushing yards and four touchdowns in running away from Clemson.
Mason and the passing game? It was unnecessary. Mason only had 131 passing yards, and Georgia’s longest completion was 23 yards, although it seems silly to complain about that when the team racks up 45 points and 459 yards of total offense.
“Unfortunately when you have talented backs like we do, sometimes when you run the ball, you have success,” joked Chris Conley, Georgia’s senior receiver.
The expectation of those around Georgia’s passing game is there won’t be many other games during which it takes a backseat, thanks to the adjustment that opponents will make.
Eight men in the box? Nine men? Ten or 11? Whatever it is, the thinking is other teams will focus heavily on Georgia’s run game.
“They have to, because we’ve got the best running back in the nation back there, and they’ve gotta really, really respect him,” senior receiver Michael Bennett said. “And that’s gonna open up opportunities for us.”
Or as Conley put it, “Ultimately that does set up the passing game when you get nosy safeties.”
That leads to the question of whether Mason is capable of carrying the offense. His longest career completion was a 48-yarder to Conley in the Gator Bowl. But in his limited experience -- three starts, some spot duty -- Mason has shown the ability to move the ball.
Last year, Mason had 160 yards against Appalachian State and 189 against Kentucky, the game in which he relieved an injury Aaron Murray.
During his two starts, Mason had 299 yards and 320 yards and averaged 14.4 yards per completion.
Murray’s career yards-per-completion average was 14.3. During his most spectacular season, 2012, it was 15.6 yards-per-completion, and last year it was 13.6.
“Our offensive philosophy is to be as balanced as possible,” Mason said. “Statistically you probably look at the other night, and if you just look at the stat sheet you think, ‘Man that’s not very balanced.’ But I felt like when we needed to throw the ball we completed passes, we kept drives going.
“Now is there a lot to work on, yeah. But I felt like Clemson was honoring, they had to honor both the pass game and the rush game. And we completed 69 percent of our passes, so I feel like no matter if we’re throwing it downfield or we’re checking down, you’re completing balls.”
Still, Mason acknowledges that “we’ve gotta be able to stretch the field more.” That’s a bit harder without Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, the team’s top two deep threats.
But there are other creative ways to go deep. And it bears noting that Mason did throw deep twice in the first half, resulting in defensive pass interference penalties.
Still, Mason ended up being a game manager in the best sense of the term. He never turned the ball over and only had eight incompletions, none of which was close to being picked off by the Tigers.
“I just try to execute what’s called and be the sheriff that’s leading them, getting them in the right plays,” Mason said. “We do have to do a better job in the pass game.”
Mason is confident that can happen. So are his receivers.
“When you see the way we ran the ball this last game you have no choice but to stack the box or letting No. 3 go wild,” Conley said of Gurley. “When that does happen you are putting a challenge on the receivers to get open, and you’re putting a challenge on the quarterback to get the ball there. And we welcome that.”