Can Georgia win a national title with old-school defense and running game?
It feels like the college football world in the Playoff era collectively zigged while Georgia zagged.
Or maybe the better way to portray Georgia’s throwback style compared to the rest of the elite teams is by use of phones.
Georgia is still rocking a landline while other teams have the iPhone 11. The landline works. The call quality is never in question, you always know where it’s gonna be and it gets the job done. But it doesn’t have all the capabilities of the iPhone 11. It’s not going to keep you updated on all your social media and there’s no such thing as “portrait mode” on a landline. Both are, in the end, phones. If your goal is to call your mom in another state, she’s not gonna care/notice if you’re calling her on a landline or the iPhone 11.
The national championship won’t necessarily be rewarded to a team because it has the modern offense. It’ll be rewarded to the team who has the most points come Jan. 13, 2020.
What’s not in question is if Georgia has the modern offense. It doesn’t. What everyone wants to know is if that’s a prerequisite to win a national championship.
After all, we’re talking about a game in which the winning team had these point totals in the championship game during the 2010s decade (by season):
- 2010 Auburn: 22
- 2011 Alabama: 21
- 2012 Alabama: 42
- 2013 Florida State: 34
- 2014 Ohio State: 42
- 2015 Alabama: 45
- 2016 Clemson: 35
- 2017 Alabama: 26
- 2018 Clemson: 44
That’s an average of 35 points per championship game for the winner. In the Playoff era, it’s an average of 38 points. Georgia scored 31 points against a Power 5 team once this year, and that was against a Tennessee team who had a true freshman quarterback in his first career start.
Take a look closer and you’ll see that it’s not just that national champs are putting up big offensive numbers on the scoreboard. It’s how they’re doing it. Look at the passing lines of each winning quarterback in the title game during the Playoff era:
- 2014 Ohio State: Cardale Jones — 16-23, 242 passing yards, 1 TD
- 2015 Alabama: Jake Coker — 16-25, 335 passing yards, 2 TDs
- 2016 Clemson: Deshaun Watson — 36-56, 420 passing yards, 3 TDs
- 2017 Alabama: Tua Tagovailoa (only played in second half) — 14-24, 166 passing yards, 3 TDs
- 2018 Clemson: Trevor Lawrence — 20-32, 347 passing yards, 3 TDs
That’s an average of 20.4 completions on 32 pass attempts for 302 yards and 2.4 passing touchdowns. Fromm hasn’t hit that 302-mark since 2017 against Mizzou, though he did have that 301-yard performance against Alabama in the SEC Championship last year. But that was obviously with a different play-caller and different receivers.
Fromm, as many know, doesn’t have a 300-yard game this year, and his first 3-touchdown game of the season came this past Saturday against Auburn.
But does that matter? Like D’Andre Swift said, this is the offense. Georgia is in the top 4 in the Playoff poll even though it ranks No. 80 in passing (every other top 10 team ranks in the top half of the country in passing offense). With a rotating offensive line, the Dawgs have the No. 25 rushing attack in the country.
Georgia’s average of 38.4 rushes per game actually trails the likes of Playoff contenders like Ohio State (46.7) and Clemson (39.8). So does that mean this is just an overblown narrative? Not exactly. Even though Georgia actually averages more pass attempts per game than Ohio State and isn’t that far off from Clemson, it’s the structure of the offense that’s in question. Both Clemson and Ohio State play in spread-it-out, up-tempo offenses with mobile quarterbacks who put up big numbers this year. Fromm is in a much different situation.
The concern with that is obvious. What happens if Georgia falls behind by a couple of scores against one of these high-powered offenses? It’s no longer a question of whether Fromm is ready to throw the ball 30 times to win a game. It’s can you actually trust this Georgia passing game to do the heavy lifting given how conservative the play-calling has been and considering how inexperienced these receivers are.
If LSU jumps out to a 21-0 lead in Atlanta, the amount of “ballgame” tweets will be off the charts.
But at the same time, that was true when Georgia went up 21-0 at Auburn (myself included). Just like it’s far-fetched to think of Georgia suddenly rallying back and overcoming a tough start with the way the offense is built, it’s far-fetched to think of anyone scoring that much against this Georgia defense.
It’s time to seriously consider the possibility that Georgia is going to beat LSU.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) November 17, 2019
No team has hit the 20-point mark against Georgia in a regulation game this year (South Carolina got to 20 thanks to 2 overtimes and a pick-6). Some would argue that’s mostly because Georgia basically hasn’t faced a quality quarterback since Ian Book 2 months ago. Others would argue that’s more to do with how relentless the Dawgs are in space, and the fact that it took 590 minutes of football for a team to score a rushing touchdown against them is proof of that.
Here’s the worrisome thing for Georgia. It’s not that teams like LSU and Ohio State haven’t faced elite passing defenses. LSU still hit 42 points against Florida and Alabama, both of whom sandwich Georgia in the national pass defense rankings. Though it is worth noting that Florida and Alabama were dealing with major injuries in the front 7 while Auburn, with its throwback defense, actually had the best formula to slow down LSU of anybody.
Ohio State, meanwhile, faced a pair of defenses currently in the top 10 in pass defense and would theoretically have faced 4 top 20 passing defenses by the time a potential Georgia matchup rolled around in the Playoff.
Perhaps, though, the zag would be the fly in the ointment. That is, those teams are so used to playing styles somewhat similar to their own that Georgia throws them out of rhythm. In a weird way, Georgia’s offense can be like the 2019 version of the service academy team who everyone dreads playing. It’s not often teams like LSU and Ohio State actually have to make key tackles for 4 quarters. Obviously we’re talking about a Georgia team with far more talent and size than a service academy team, not to mention one who has been in this spot before.
Maybe the better comp for 2019 Georgia is 2017 Alabama. That defensively-dominant team with Jalen Hurts was extremely limited in the passing game in Brian Daboll’s offense. Like Fromm, Hurts had difficulties trusting his young wideouts when they couldn’t get separation. The defense and running game fueled that team up until it stared at that dreaded 2-score deficit against Georgia at halftime in the national championship. It took Alabama turning the offense over to a superior downfield passer like Tagovailoa for that path to change.
That’s not my way of saying history will repeat itself and Stetson Bennett IV is going to lead a second-half comeback for the ages to clinch a national title for Georgia, but oh my goodness what madness that would be. That Alabama team had a formula. It also had limits. The same appears to be true of this Georgia team, but unlike 2017 Alabama, there’s not another option to turn to if that formula fails in the first half of a win-or-go-home game.
Again, this is the offense.
Georgia has earned the right to essentially have a Playoff quarterfinal matchup. Beating 3 consecutive top 4 teams en route to a national championship by following that old-school formula seems lofty, but who knows? There are worse qualities to have than a relentless defense with a smash-mouth offense.
Landlines aren’t extinct yet.