I’ll bounce around on both sides as the week progresses, but I’m gonna start in Debbie Downer mode.
We’ve all focused on the shortcomings of the defense, but if you ask me, there’s an equally troubling development that’s cropped up at a most inopportune time. I’ll let Year2 explain.
Thanks to the magic of SEC video box scores, I took some time to break down Georgia’s rushing game in conference play based on whether it had a numbers advantage up front or not. I wanted to get an idea as to why the UGA rushing game had worked so well earlier in the year but not so well in the past two games…
Anyway, so what caused the drop off in these rushing averages over the course of the last two games? It’s pretty simple: a lack of big plays.
Only nine of UGA’s 31 rushes against Tennessee went for more than five yards, but three of those nine were big home runs. Take out the touchdown runs of 51, 72, and 75 yards, and they rush for just 3.54 YPC on the game against one of the league’s iffier run defenses. Todd Gurley’s 44-yard run against Mizzou by itself raises the average by 1.4 YPC from 3.57 to the 4.97 you see above. UGA had just one run of over ten yards, a 15-yarder to start the game, against South Carolina, and it likewise had just one rush, for 12 yards, of more than ten against Kentucky.
Now South Carolina I can understand – a bad combination of Lorenzo Ward’s excellent game plan, the collective freak out by Georgia’s staff and offensive linemen over Jadeveon Clowney and a game score that led to an abandonment of the running game – but Kentucky? Kentucky’s run defense… well, Kentucky’s run defense isn’t good. And, no, it wasn’t as if the UK defense was set up to shut down the run. For one thing, the Wildcats’ pass defense is even worse and those guys needed all hands on deck for that. For another, Year2 counted and found,
… you’re probably expecting me to say that Kentucky loaded up on the run just like the Gamecocks did. After all, Murray had another excellent game going 30-for-38 (78.9%) for 427 yards, four TDs, no INTs, and a passing efficiency of 208.1. However, Kentucky didn’t do that. Georgia had an advantage on 14 rushes versus 11 rushes against equal numbers. The Wildcats didn’t focus on the run particularly hard; UGA’s big guys up front just couldn’t get a consistent push or open holes with regularity for the backs. That goes for even when they had a numerical advantage.[Emphasis added.]
That was my impression watching, as well. The offensive line has disappeared in the last two weeks. I don’t know if the guys were shell-shocked after the debacle in Columbia, but it was obvious that UK’s line played more physically. With Florida next, that’s not a good place to be.
… Against pro-style running attacks that are similar to the Bulldogs’, Florida rarely has loaded up the box against the run. In the few times they do equal up the numbers, it’s usually because they’re playing nickel (six-man front) against a one-back, no TE/FB look from the offense. Will Muschamp partially does this thanks to great line play and partially because his safeties are excellent at coming up in run support. Josh Evans and Matt Elam are actually the team’s leading tacklers, and you’ll see them a lot in run play defense this weekend.
Georgia’s offensive line has to have a better game this weekend than last, full stop. If it doesn’t then Evans and Elam will be able to stay back more for passing coverage, something that will hurt Murray’s chances through the air. Murray bailed out the running game with his arm in Lexington, but he probably won’t be able to against the nation’s third-best passing efficiency defense. If Gurley and Marshall don’t get openings to make some more of those big plays again, then we’re going to see yet another Florida win in Jacksonville.
You never know if one thing is the be-all and end-all, but I will say that if Georgia can’t run a lick Saturday and has to rely solely on Murray and the receivers to move the ball, it’s going to make things a lot tougher. In that case, you can expect the Gators to press Georgia’s receivers in the hope of disrupting the Dawg passing attack just as South Carolina did.
The good news, if you want to call it that, is that Florida doesn’t have a single player who’s as disruptive as Clowney. The bad news is that Kentucky didn’t, either. And Florida’s defensive line is far deeper and more talented than UK’s.
Georgia’s offensive line doesn’t have to be fabulous Saturday. But it does need to show up and hold its own.