Seth Emerson asks Kirk Herbstreit to weigh in on Georgia’s play selection in the wake of the Auburn game and with the SECCG coming into view, and, like it or not, Herbstreit is pretty spot on with his response.
First, this is an accurate assessment of Georgia’s offensive philosophy:
“They’re not Oklahoma with Baker Mayfield or what Clemson does: ‘Hey let’s just score in three plays, no problem, let’s go.’ They’re more methodical. So I don’t know if Week 10 it’s fair to look back at their season and with a loss the way they suffered one at Auburn and say, Well they need to be more balanced, they need to have this. They are who they are at this point.
“The best thing that you could do is maybe say, Hey we’re going to still win with defense, we’re going to still win with field position, let’s win the turnover battle, let’s run the football. But when we get into these tougher games, guys, with teams that can match us at the line of scrimmage – specifically the SEC championship no matter who shows up there – they’re going to have to go play-action pass on early downs more. They’re going to have to give Jake Fromm and that offensive line a better chance than being a ‘Run-on-first-down, run-on-second-down, uh oh third-and-5, third-and-7, now let’s ask the freshman quarterback to make a play.’ That’s just not who they are right now. They will be. When Fromm gains more experience and they get better receivers. But for now that’s not their game. So to me you’ve got to hope that throwing on first-and-10 on play-action will get the linebackers out of position, give you some easy throws to the tight end, or some easy throws to the receivers on their coverage. But I don’t think you can say, ‘Hey we’ve got to go into this game and be more 50-50 balanced to give ourselves a better chance.’ Just because I don’t think you can do that Week 11, Week 12.” [Emphasis added.]
You go to war with the offensive personnel you have, not the offensive personnel you wish you had. (Not to mention the head coach you have.) It seems to me that Chaney has structured his offense to maximize the production it’s capable of, based on its limitations and Kirby Smart’s expectations. Ten wins in, you’d have to say he’s done a respectable job with that.
The rubber’s about to meet the road, though, and as Herbstreit acknowledges, from the SECCG on, it’s unlikely that Georgia will face a team that doesn’t match up (at worse) on the lines. So where do you go from there?
“I don’t think they need to change anything. I think everything they have in their arsenal is there. I just think it’s a different mindset from Jim Chaney. I think it’s a different mindset from how they approach the attack. It’s not: ‘Hey this worked all year, we’re big bad Georgia, we can run the ball on anybody, we’ve got the best backs in the SEC, we’re doing to do this.’ Sometimes you run to set up the pass, and other times you’re going to have to pass to set up the run.
“And I think if they would have the trip to Auburn back with a young quarterback, I would bet they’d say, Look we’re going to have to throw a bit more on early downs, and once we have a little success with that, then we can get back to running the football. Then we can get back to our linemen getting up those linebackers. But when you go into a game, and the defensive coordinator on the other side, and it’s a road game, his number one goal is we have to stop the run. We’re putting nine guys up there if we have to. We’re going to stop their running game. We don’t care what they do throwing the ball, we’re going to stop their running game.
“That was (Auburn’s) approach. If you go back and watch the film, that’s what my point is, when a defense is going to approach a game like that you have to say, OK boom, put the ball in the belly of the tailback (and then) pull it out. Get those guys all up at the line of scrimmage to tackle the ball-carrier and now you have a tight end out in the flat for a 5-yard pass. Not fancy, nothing crazy, you’re just doing a little flat route and he catches it, and he turns the corner, and he picks up 12 yards. That’s what I’m talking about.
“So it’s not like they have to change the gameplan, find some new plays. It’s more of how they approach it and how they attack, and it would not shock me at all that when they go to Atlanta it’s not going to be new plays, it’s going to be how they call them, and whether it’s Bama or Auburn it’s going to be the same approach. They’re not going to let (Georgia’s) run game beat them. So Chaney’s got to say, OK, no problem, play-action on first-and-10, now I’m a linebacker, now I’m a safety, now I’m like, Wait a second, are they throwing here or are they running? Now I’m a little hesitant. Now I’m getting back to being able to run the ball a little easier. So that’s why I’m saying play-action early downs makes a defense indecisive and makes it much, much easier for linemen to be able to block them when a defense thinks like that.”
I think that’s right. Georgia isn’t going to radically restructure its offense when it plays the West champ. For one thing, there isn’t enough time to install a whole new offense and expect it to function smoothly against one of the top defenses in college football. For another, your best players on offense are the running backs you’ve relied on all year to get you to Atlanta. The SECCG isn’t the time to work around using them; it’s the time to come up with ways within the existing structure of your offense to put them in situations where they can win a given play.
I’m not saying, “boom!, that’s easy”, and I don’t think Herbstreit is, either. It’s Jim Chaney’s job to give Chubb, Michel and Fromm a fighting chance. (It’s also the staff’s job to make sure the rest of the game doesn’t get away from the Dawgs and force Chaney and the offense into a position they’re not comfortable with, but that’s a post for another day.) Reinventing the wheel in late November doesn’t strike me as an efficient way of accomplishing that.