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October 21, 2009

Running Game Woes


Georgia accomplished exactly what it needed to last Saturday: an essential, solid victory.  Granted, the win came over a team who had lost to Army the previous week.  However, a 24-point victory over an SEC foe on the road is impressive, even if the opponent is Vanderbilt.
One of the Georgia's several bright spots was its establishment of a running game.  The Bulldogs' 173 rushing yards was their most in 12 games since rushing for 194 against LSU last season; the 4.68 rushing average was their best in 10 games (4.8 vs. Kentucky in 2008).  Of Georgia's rushing totals against the Commodores, 120 yards on 17 carries came in the 4th quarter alone.  It might have taken some time for the Bulldogs to find their running game, but they did at the most critical point in the game.
Even after Georgia's fine showing on Saturday, the Bulldogs are still averaging only 108 rushing yards per game for the season (103rd of 120 FBS teams) and just 3.62 yards per carry.  If you figure Joe Cox has only been sacked six times for a loss of 46 yards, Bulldog ball carriers are averaging only 3.99 yards per rush.  Only nine FBS teams have scored less than Georgia's six rushing touchdowns.
These rushing statistics are rather shocking considering Georgia was believed to have a highly-effective ground game entering 2009.  Nine players returned this season who had started at least three career games along the offensive line, totaling a staggering 102 career starts.  Caleb King (photo--Tennessean.com) and Richard Samuel, although unproven and inexperienced, had the 2008 season under their belts and seemed to possess tons of talent.  Freshmen Carlton Thomas and Washaun Ealey had been highly recruited, especially Ealey, and were thought to provide tremendous support.
An offensive line considered in the preseason as one of the best in the country along with young but talented running backs should have signified possibly Georgia's greatest running game in the post-Dooley era.  Instead, unless there is continued improvement running the ball through the second half of the season, it perhaps could be one of the worst in Bulldog history.
Georgia's 0.86 rushing touchdowns per game is its lowest since 1962, when the Bulldogs ran for only four scores in 10 games (0.4).  Its 108 rushing yards per game is its lowest since averaging 107.4 for 1993.  Only six years ago in 2003, the Bulldogs rushed for just 3.36 yards per carry; however, considering Georgia quarterbacks were sacked 47 times for 336 yards, ball carriers actually rushed for a 4.32 clip in '03.  If sacks are taken out of rushing stats, the Dogs are currently carrying their lowest per-carry average since, again, 1993.
Most of us Bulldog faithful remember Georgia's running game from 1993, or the lack thereof.  By mid-season, the Dogs had a lowly 1-4 record and basically abandoned the run altogether.  "Air Georgia" would seemingly pass on every down the rest of the season and won four of its final six games but still finished with a losing, 5-6 mark.  Against Florida that season, besides having the apparent tying or even winning touchdown erased because of a controversial timeout, Georgia ran the ball just 14 times, attempting a school-record 65 passes.  Similarly to today, the Bulldogs had no excuses for a lack of a running game in 1993.  Three starters on the offensive line returned from the year before, a season when Georgia averaged a school-record 5.64 yards per carry, including All-American Bernard Williams.  The Bulldogs also had future NFL star Terrell Davis in the backfield.  Of course, when the running game failed, Georgia had the great Eric Zeier at quarterback to pick up the slack, and not a Joe Cox.
Below are Georgia's five lowest rushing yardage, per carry (not excluding sacks), and touchdown per-game averages from 1947-2008:




Rushing Yards

Rushing Average

Rushing TDs
1963
89.8
1963
2.53
1961
0.40
1962
98.2
1961
2.73
1962
0.40
1961
104.3
1962
2.77
1956
0.50
1993
107.4
1970
3.228
1954
0.90
1953
127.1
1965
3.229
1963
0.90

What do the seasons listed above have in common besides inferior rushing statistics?  Fourteen of the 15 were non-winning campaigns for the Bulldogs.  Interestingly, all three of seasons 1961 through 1963 appear in the bottom five of 62 seasons of Georgia football in all three rushing categories.  These three campaigns made up the short coaching career of Johnny Griffith, which, beginning in 1964, led into the Coach Vince Dooley era--a long duration notorious for its strong running games, star tailbacks, and, above all, winning.  It's safe to say, in UGA football history, Bulldog teams that were most challenged running the football were the ones that had the most difficult time winning games.  Georgia's 2009 team seems no different as this season's rushing totals are on pace to appear in the table above.
However, as mentioned, the Bulldogs may have finally discovered a running game and have a week off to fine tune it before facing the second half of their schedule.  Running on Florida will be difficult; the Gators currently yield less than 100 yards rushing per game and only 3.0 yards per rush.  But Auburn, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech all rank in the bottom half of the FBS in rushing defense and all are allowing 4.39 yards per rush or more.
Georgia finally found its running game against Vanderbilt during the most pivotal point of the game.  It's time for the Bulldogs to continue with their newly-discovered ground attack at the most critical point of the 2009 campaign.