Burton, Cook emerging as targets in Georgia’s offense

ATHENS -- There were a lot of negatives for Georgia’s offense coming out of the 41-24 loss to Alabama Saturday. But there were some positives as well.

The Bulldogs unveiled some new plays and formations against the Crimson Tide, and a lot of them worked well in the early going as Georgia built a 24-17 lead late in the first half. It centered around getting two players in particular more involved.

One was junior running back James Cook. The other was freshman flanker Jermaine Burton.

Cook, who was held out of the previous game against Tennessee due to a minor shoulder injury, emerged as Georgia’s top offensive player of the game with 117 all-purpose yards and one touchdown. Cook’s best work came as a receiver. He had 101 yards on four catches, including an 82-yard touchdown that put Georgia ahead 14-7 early in the second quarter.

Alabama coach Nick Saban revealed afterward that the scoring play caught his team by surprise.

“The play that scored the big-play touchdown with No. 4 was a new formation, something we hadn’t seen,” Saban said. “We should have bumped the safety out, all right, but he didn’t do it. So, the linebacker (Dylan Moses) ends up on a guy that is a really fast, good … Obviously, (Moses) hadn’t practiced doing that very much, so we gave up a big play.”

Overall, Cook had nine touches in the game, which was second only to Zamir White, who had 12 between rushes and two kickoff returns.

Burton had five touches on four receptions and one jet sweep. He finished with 62 total yards and a touchdown. But Burton would have had several more touches if he could have held onto the football or quarterback Stetson Bennett delivered the ball more accurately.

Burton was targeted at least four other times in the game. Two of them resulted in drops. One might have resulted in a touchdown, though it was thrown behind them. The other resulted in arguably the most pivotal play in the game.

Bennett delivered a good, if slightly high, throw to Burton on a dig route over the middle. Burton was covered tightly by Alabama defensive back Josh Jobe but had inside leverage. Jobe appeared to have made contact early from behind, which contributed to Burton’s inability to haul in the pass. Instead, the ball deflected off his hands and sailed high, all the way to the 6-yard line. There it was intercepted by Alabama’s Malachi Moore, who returned it 42 yards. The Crimson Tide would score a minute later to go up 34-24.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart thought the ball should’ve been caught.

“That went through Jermaine’s hands and got out on us,” he said. “But, ultimately, when you throw the ball, you know that those things can happen.”

Burton, a 6-foot, 195-pound freshman from Calabasas, Calif., is showing the most promise so far of five receivers the Bulldogs signed in the 2020 recruiting class. He came in as a consensus 4-star process and was an Under Armour high school All-American.

Execution aside, it certainly appeared that the Bulldogs and offensive coordinator Todd Monken were looking to target Cook and Burton more. Georgia looks to have solid No. 1 and 2 receivers in George Pickens and Kearis Jackson, but it continues to seek a dependable tertiary target. Junior flanker Matt Landers was thought to be that receiver early on, but injury and ineffectiveness had Georgia looking elsewhere.

Bennett said he and Burton will work hard to shore up connection during the off week. Georgia’s game against Kentucky was moved from this Saturday to Oct. 31 as part of the SEC’s COVID-19 adjustments.

“The reads took me to Jermaine and I have trust in him,” Bennett said after the game. “And we’re going to get that connection dialed in in this off week.”