ATHENS -- At Georgia, it's not good enough to just protect or take care of the football.
"You've got to take what the defense gives you, and you've got to respect the football," said Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
At this point in Georgia's relationship with the football, some sort of counseling might be necessary. Considering the Bulldogs' treatment of the ball, respect isn't the first word that comes to mind.
Only five teams in Division I-A have more turnovers than the Bulldogs, who have 12 in four games. Against Arizona State on Saturday, Georgia lost a fumble and threw two interceptions, one of which nearly cost the Bulldogs the game.
What has compounded the matter is that 10 of Georgia's 12 turnovers have occurred inside its territory, making it easier for opponents to cash them in for scores. The 12 turnovers have turned into seven touchdowns.
Correspondingly, nine of the turnovers have taken place within the first three plays of a Georgia possession, meaning the Bulldogs have had fewer opportunities for big plays of their own.
At 3-1 and 2-0 in the SEC, Georgia treads lightly. The five teams with more turnovers than the Bulldogs have a combined record of 4-16. If Georgia continues its carefree manner with the ball Saturday against LSU, it could be punitive. The Tigers have given the ball away only three times this season and taken it away 10. That''s one reason why LSU is last in the SEC in total offense and still undefeated (4-0) and ranked No. 4 in the country.
"We know they are good in that area, and they don’t do a lot of things to beat themselves, so we do have to be smarter with the ball and respect the ball more this week," quarterback Joe Cox said. "But it's not something where we're going to be freaking out all week about it."
That's the rub for Georgia coaches. As the offense's turnover issues continue, they've practiced ball-security drills more often. For instance, coaches instruct the defensive scout team to try to strip backs and receivers of the ball. When players turn the ball over in practice, they're punished with up-down drills and sprints.
"We work on that every day in practice," wide receiver A.J. Green said. "I don't know what the problem is. It's not that we're not trying to work on that, it's just happening."
But Bobo also is aware that stressing the need to protect -- ahem, respect -- the football can be counterproductive.
"You don't want to talk about it so much that guys get scared to run the ball hard or scared to make plays in the passing game because you've got to have the ability to throw it down the middle," he said.
Indeed, Cox's past six touchdown passes have ranged in distance from 21 to 56 yards, long passes that weren't without risks.
Still, after Cox threw the two interceptions against the Sun Devils, Bobo stressed again to his quarterback that he can't always force the ball downfield to Green.
"There's a lot of stuff we call downfield where you get excited when you call the play, because you think you're going to have a shot deep," said Cox, whose rate of one interception for every 22 throws is second-worst in the SEC. "You’ve got to know that if you don’t feel like it's the right thing to do before you cut it loose, you should probably either throw it away or check it down."
It would be the respectful thing to do.
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