From Seth Emerson’s “By the Numbers”:
Tackles-for-loss given up by Georgia’s offense against Kentucky, the only one coming on a sack in the first half.
On the ride back from the game Saturday night, after comparing the outcomes of Georgia’s last two games, it occurred to me that if you’re preparing to play Georgia and decide you have to load the box to stop the run, you’re going to lose.
Sure, you may succeed in the short run, as Jim Chaney is going to run his tailbacks into those eight- and nine- man sets early and often, but what’s also going to happen are a couple of things: one, at some point Jake Fromm is going to get the go-ahead to throw the ball against a defensive backfield lacking numbers and eyeing the run; and, two, those five Georgia running backs are eventually going to wear your ass out and get their yards.
That’s exactly where Kentucky found itself as the game progressed. The ‘Cats did manage to gum the works up early on, although as the stat Seth disclosed indicates, their defense wasn’t particularly disruptive. Once Jake Fromm settled in, Chaney turned him loose on Georgia’s second scoring drive. Two of his three passes, including the 27-yard toss to Wims for the touchdown, were about as easy as completions come. From there, it was pound the crap out of the defense until submission time. On the day, the Dawgs ran for 381 yards and averaged close to nine yards a carry.
That’s been the story most of the season. 10-1 Georgia is last in the conference in passing attempts by a wide margin, despite most opponents following the same strategy that Kentucky used against the Dawgs’ running game. We may find it frustrating to watch at times, but Chaney’s insistence on sticking to the run early has largely been a success.
The exception that proved the rule is Auburn.
The Tigers have been the only team Georgia has faced this season that didn’t need to load the box to disrupt Georgia’s offense. After an initial series in which Fromm went 3-3 and marched the team down for a touchdown, Chaney stuck with the run for the next couple of series, only to see the offense bog down for the rest of the half. There was only one pass attempt on first down in the first half.
When Fromm is comfortable, Georgia’s offense is fine. What we’ve seen this season is that there are two ways to make him comfortable: establishing the run game to open up the passing game and throwing on downs when the opposing defense is expecting the run. Auburn took away the first path and Georgia never tried to open the second one.
The good news in the short run is that this week’s opponent is coming off a game in which it gave up over three hundred yards rushing to Duke. I would expect that Georgia Tech will load the box to stop the run — even in the best of times, Ted Roof has never met a run blitz he didn’t like — and I would expect that will work about as well as it has in every one of Georgia’s wins this season.
The bad news in the intermediate term is that whichever team the Dawgs face in the SECCG won’t be loading the box and will likely be able to disrupt what Georgia likes to do. The challenge for Chaney is that he can’t stick with the same old, same old if that happens.
That game also represents a bigger challenge for the whole team and staff. Chaney’s patience with the game plan has largely been a plus this season, and, you could argue, almost a necessity given the true freshman quarterback running the offense and the reshaped offensive line. The reason Auburn was a disaster was that the special teams mistakes that contributed to the defensive meltdown meant that offensive patience was a luxury that Jim Chaney couldn’t afford. Georgia’s offense isn’t built for catch up. If special teams and defense can’t keep the Dawgs in the championship game while the offense tries to establish traction, which is how Georgia held things together in South Bend, it’s going to be another long day.