Georgia football: Plenty goes into Bulldogs' prolific running game
Kirby Smart makes no bones about the fact that he’s a defensive coach. That’s where he made his bones, on that side of the ball at Alabama, and that’s where he played in college.
So when he came to Georgia, you knew that the type of offense he’d want to run would be something that he would personally hate to defend. And, without question, Kirby Smart would hate having to defend this Bulldogs offense.
Why? Every defensive coordinator in America worth his chops will tell you that there’s nothing worse than trying to stop a running game when you know you’re not capable of doing it. Right now, that’s what Georgia does to its opponents. The Dawgs beat on them, humiliate them and dominate them.
The Bulldogs are a top 10 rushing team again this season through 2 weeks, and there’s sure to be more to come as the season goes on. They are averaging 7.4 yards per carry — 5th-best in all the land — and they come at you in waves. Their 5.9-yard average a year ago was 6th-best in the country.
So how does Georgia do it? How have they become the team that everyone envies when it comes to running the ball? It’s a whole lot of things, but all those come together because of one very simple tenet — a complete and total commitment to running the ball, and running it right.
Here are 4 big reasons why the Bulldogs are so good:
1. Talent in the room
The Bulldogs have 4, and maybe even 5, running backs who could start for just about every other school in the nation. They’re that good. They have been able to recruit 5-star runners and the best of the 4-stars every year, and it never stops. That’s because they see Georgia running backs starring throughout the NFL, guys like Todd Gurley, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, just to name a few.
Georgia has proven that even when backs share carries — like Chubb and Michel did — they can still get drafted high. That’s why the recruits keep coming. D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien, James Cook and Zamir White all could have gone anywhere in America. They all came to Georgia. And they will all go to the NFL.
“The No. 1 thing guys look for is, ‘will I get an opportunity, will I grow and develop, will they teach me a skill set that will allow me to play in the NFL?’ which is more than just carrying the ball because backs in the NFL nowadays are doing less and less of that,” Smart said. “They don’t carry the ball much. They catch it and they play on special teams. It’s not as much as a down-hill run league as much as it is an outside zone, stretch, perimeter pass, play-action, matchup and special teams.”
And does the pipeline dry up eventually? No chance. For instance, 5-star running back Kendall Milton of Clovis, Calif., is already a Georgia commit in the 2020 class.
2. Commitment to a scheme
Even when the coordinators change, the theory remains the same. Build an offense around the strong running game, and then take it from there with whatever else you want to do. That’s exactly what Georgia does, and it especially helps to have a quarterback like Jake Fromm who’s been around 3 years and knows how to get his guys in and out of the right plays.
Having offensive line coach Sam Pittman around is also huge. He’s one of the best in the business in getting players to reach a high level, and he’s also an amazing recruiter. That’s one heck of a combination.
3. Receivers who block well
Georgia breaks a ton of long runs every year, and those explosive plays aren’t all on the running backs. Sure, the line creates some holes, but what’s become a given the past several years in Athens is that the receivers who block the best are the ones who play, the guy who can’t block but can make the occasional circus catch.
“It’s not hard. That is just reality. You don’t sell them. You just turn on the tape,” Smart said about how receivers learn about why they don’t get playing time. “They realize that if I don’t play, that’s probably why I am not playing. Once they understand that they can contribute on special teams and they can protect the quarterback, then they get more opportunities.”
The Bulldogs are 2nd in the nation in 10+ yard runs (23), and what’s consistent when you watch the highlights is that at least one wide receiver is doing something special.
4. Experienced offensive line
The benefit of sending running backs to the NFL is that it does the same thing for the offensive linemen creating all the space for them. Every year, the Bulldogs keep sending linemen to the league, and it’s been a huge boon for recruiting since Smart arrived. Georgia’s offensive line now is as deep as its ever been, or maybe even ever.
That depth is getting tested these days with right tackle Isaiah Wilson being a bit hobbled. He was in a boot for a few days and will probably be back soon, but it almost doesn’t even matter for the Bulldogs right now, who have eight starters really, not five. They just move the pieces around and never miss a beat.