Jacob Eason and Nick Chubb have deservedly received much of the attention among Georgia’s offensive players. Through the team’s first two games, however, it’s junior receiver Isaiah McKenzie who has established himself as the team’s best outside weapon.
A dynamic return man, McKenzie is finally making an impact on offense as well. With 8 catches for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns thus far, he has nearly totaled the 190 receiving yards he amassed during his first two years with the Bulldogs.
It isn’t just the numbers that impressive, though. In both of Georgia’s games, McKenzie has come through when his team needed him most. Against North Carolina, he was the recipient of a 51-yard dart from Eason, setting the Bulldogs up for a crucial field goal. After Georgia fell behind to Nicholls in the third quarter, McKenzie caught a 12-yard pass and turned on the jets to race past the defense and score a 66-yard touchdown.
— UGA Football Live (@UGAfootballLive) September 10, 2016
McKenzie has always been a nice tool for Georgia but was used as a more of a gimmick on jet sweeps and short passes in his first two seasons. In his third year, McKenzie has proven that he is very capable of making traditional plays in addition to the danger he presents coming out of the backfield.
The receiver’s emergence shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who watched him play at American Heritage High School near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. McKenzie caught 71 passes during his junior and senior seasons for 1,734 yards and 22 touchdowns. He averaged a staggering 25 yards per reception, and it was his ability to make defenders miss in the open field that earned him his nickname: The Human Joystick.
Wide receiver was a position of mystery entering the season. Terry Godwin was expected to emerge as the team’s top pass catcher after a solid freshman year, but he’s taken a backseat to McKenzie so far.
“Well, anytime you’ve got someone special with the ball, you’re always looking for ways to get him the ball,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said this summer. “He’s good with that. He’s demonstrated that year-in, year-out, that he has that ability to do that. So we’ll be finding ways to get Isaiah the ball.”
Against North Carolina, McKenzie scored on a 17-yard shovel pass and displayed his ability to blow past defenders. In the fourth quarter, he was lined up in the slot position and caught a 7-yard pass on a slant route. On the very next play, McKenzie again lined up in the slot and went deep to haul in the 51-yard reception along the right sideline.
Georgia once again used McKenzie in a variety of ways against Nicholls. They faked it to him out of the backfield, tossed him the ball on sweeps and let him work out of the slot position. His 66-yard touchdown catch came on a curl route from the slot.
“I just saw grass, green grass,” McKenzie said of his touchdown catch, according to dogbytesonline. “I’ve got to run fast and score a touchdown and get this team up. Our run was down in the first half. We had to come out and make big plays.”
After the Bulldogs’ win Saturday, Kirby Smart said he was looking for receivers who could take advantage of situations. There weren’t many who expected McKenzie to be the player to do so, but the 5-foot-8, 175-pound speedster is used to surprising people.
He’s a small guy playing in a big man’s game, but his hard work is making an impact. In the summer, Chaney said he believes McKenzie is “pound-for-pound as strong as anybody on our team.” The Human Joystick has been given an opportunity, and he’s made the most of it through two games.
Georgia will always be a run-first team as long as Chubb and Sony Michel are healthy, but McKenzie is easily the lightning to their thunder. He’s capable of taking it to the house at any time and from many different positions on the field.
Despite his early success, however, McKenzie isn’t close to satisfied.
“There’s still some improvement I have to do in the special teams game and at receiver as well,” McKenzie said, per dogbytesonline. “I’m not content. There’s always ways to improve.”
For two years he was Georgia’s secret weapon. In his third season with the Bulldogs, McKenzie is no longer a secret, but he’s a much more dangerous weapon.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.
Source: Saturday Down South