Georgia's quarterbacks will be the focus, but running backs need to step up, too
Nick Chubb. Sony Michel. Todd Gurley. Knowshon Moreno. D’Andre Swift.
And long before all of those guys, the gold standard: Herschel Walker.
You know the names.
Georgia’s been somewhat of an “RBU” throughout its history, as over the past decade it’s been churning out some talented players at the position. And the hope is that a new name — that of Zamir White — can take his place among the greats.
Granted, most of the headlines this week will be focused on who will be passing the ball against Auburn, not who’s running it. D’Wan Mathis started against Arkansas and things, well, didn’t go according to plan. He gave way to Stetson Bennett IV in the 2nd quarter, and not much changed until the 2nd half when the Dawgs really got rolling. Monday, the Dawgs announced the JT Daniels is cleared to play.
The quarterback situation has been dissected already and will be over the coming days. Most assume Daniels will start. But I digress. Back to the running backs.
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By all accounts, the White era as “the guy” out of the backfield didn’t get off to a great start: just 4 carries for 6 yards in the first half. In fact, the Dawgs’ leading rusher at halftime was Mathis, with 4 carries for 25 yards. While there’s nothing wrong with that per se, especially with a mobile quarterback, a) Mathis didn’t finish the half, and b) it’s not ideal to have your 1st-string running back only getting 4 touches and 6 yards out of them.
The 2nd half saw the switch flipped. White began to gradually get more involved in the offense, rushing for 65 yards on 9 carries including a 6-yard punch-in early in the 4th to make it 34-10 Dawgs. And the redshirt sophomore was involved in special teams as well, blocking a punt in the 3rd quarter that really served as the turning point.
That was more like it.
Now, let’s keep in mind that the kid is coming off not 1, but 2 torn ACLs, so criticism needs to be somewhat measured. He might need some time to ease into things as the No. 1 option at running back.
The flip side of that argument is that we didn’t see a great deal of involvement from White’s supporting cast, though. James Cook, who has developed into a strong all-purpose option, ran the ball 7 times for only 26 yards, while Kenny McIntosh and true freshman Kendall Milton touched it a combined 4 times for 10 yards.
I don’t think I’m the only one who felt more than a little let down from what I saw from the ball carriers Saturday. An Arkansas defense that gave up 222 yards a game on the ground last year — including 330 to Kentucky and 460 to Mississippi State — held Georgia to just 121 yards on 42 attempts.
That’s not good enough, especially under an offensive coordinator in Todd Monken whose units have historically piled on the points and yardage.
But while it’s too early to sound the alarm bells for the running game, it will need to tighten things up and do so quickly.
Auburn, who did a decent job bottling up Kentucky’s ground attack in its season-opener (3.6 yards a carry), is looming in a stiff Week 2 test at Sanford Stadium. The big question is if we’ll see a more sustained performance from White from the opening whistle, and if Cook can take that next big step as that change-of-pace option behind White that we saw Brian Herrien turn in to during his career. I’m also interested in seeing a response from the offensive line, who looked at times as if it was still gelling a bit under Matt Luke.
White has an opportunity to become the next in a line of memorable backs for Georgia. Let’s hope that a relatively slow time off the starting blocks isn’t a sign of things to come for him and the Bulldogs’ offense.