As we sit here on the eve of the Tennessee game, with Kirby Smart crossing his fingers that Nick Chubb will be available to play, it’s hard to avoid wondering what the hell has happened to one area everyone thought would be one of Georgia’s strengths in 2016.
It’s not idle speculation, either. Take a look at Georgia’s yards per rush average over the past four seasons:
- 2012: 4.87 (3rd in the SEC)
- 2013: 4.55 (11th in the SEC)
- 2014: 6.04 (1st in the SEC)
- 2015: 5.14 (2nd in the SEC)
This season? Currently, the Georgia offense is averaging 4.55 ypc, which is good for eighth in the conference. (It’s hard to believe, but, yes, there’s an area that’s actually declined from Schottenheimer’s year in control.)
It’s easy to start by blaming injuries — Chubb’s recovery and Michel’s accident obviously come to mind here — but let’s not forget that Chubb was hurt for much of last season and seemingly everyone was hurt in 2013.
Sacks, perhaps? Well, maybe just a tad. This season, Eason and Lambert have combined to lose 34 yards rushing in four games, which averages out to minus-8.5 yards per game. The rushing averages for quarterbacks over those same previous four seasons look like this:
- 2015: minus-4
- 2014: +1.46
- 2013: +16 (Aaron Murray rushed for 186 yards that season, fifth best on the team.)
- 2012: minus-0.21
Seth Emerson suggests another factor.
But it’s hard to miss that the running game went smoother in Lambert’s one start, and has struggled since then. Eason has audibled a few more times each game, and the more comfortable he gets that’ll happen. I also noticed him pointing out the Mike linebacker more As I’ve said many times, I’ve yet to see anything to indicate that Eason won’t pick things up. He’s just not there yet.
Georgia isn’t making defenses pay for their alignments because Eason simply isn’t schooled enough to check his team into better plays to take advantage. That’ll come, but it’s going to take time.
I just wish I could say the same thing about Georgia’s offensive line. Matt Hinton isn’t helping.
The Bulldogs haven’t been hapless on the ground, by any means. But they haven’t blocked anything as well as they did that pair of touchdown runs in the opener, and they’ve often looked out of sync. Between the tackles, especially, they’ve come up mostly empty.
Formation-wise, first-year coordinator Jim Chaney has added a healthy dollop of spread sets on top of a traditional, two-back foundation, and attempting to run out of the former has been an exercise in frustration. Part of that has to do with Eason’s statuesque presence, which automatically rules out large swathes of any spread-to-run playbook — kid’s got an arm, but at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he’s hardly a threat to keep the ball on a zone read (or any other designed run) and defenses don’t treat him like one.
More to the point, though, the front five has simply struggled to open lanes and allowed far too much traffic behind the line of scrimmage before the backs even have a chance to react.
There’s more than one reason for that, as Matt explains.
Sometimes the problem is as basic as a busted assignment — that’s what happened here, for example, when Georgia faced seven Missouri defenders in the box with only six blockers and simply neglected to block the Tigers’ best player, Charles Harris (No. 91 below, at right defensive end) on a straightforward off-tackle run by Chubb…
… But mental busts can be corrected. More often, and more concerning, is the frequency of blockers simply getting beaten at the point of attack. On this play, UGA wants to pull Wynn from his left guard spot to lead Sony Michel around the right side on a counter. The problem is that Missouri’s defensive end on the right side, Marcell Frazier (No. 55) beats tight end Jeb Blazevich off the snap and successfully caves him into the backfield, cutting off Wynn and clogging the intended running lane; Michel, one of the shiftiest open-field runners in the country, is forced to dodge his own linemen 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage before being swarmed over for no gain.
It’s a perfect storm: the line is inconsistent, both physically and mentally, and the starting quarterback is both green and not a threat to run. Georgia’s backs may be great — okay, they are great — but even the best running backs need some surrounding infrastructure to succeed. As Hinton puts it,
Even if Chubb wakes up Saturday morning feeling 100 percent, though, it won’t mean anything against a nasty Volunteers front without a better push up front than he and the other backs have seen the past three weeks.
One way to do that with a largely immobile quarterback might be to emphasize what worked against UNC — old-school, downhill running behind a fullback or H-back — which also happens to be how Chubb came by most (though certainly not all) of his yardage in 2014 and ’15.
Running out of shotgun and spread sets often means more slowly developing runs and fewer opportunities for a powerful, one-cut runner like Chubb to build momentum and accelerate through a crease, especially when the defense is basically free to ignore the possibility that Eason might tuck and run with it himself.
But to a very large extent improvement is simply a matter of execution: No play will work if the blocking doesn’t come off.
Tomorrow sure would be a good time to start, fellas.