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April 13, 2010

Should a "Runner" Run Georgia's Offense?

James Jackson (No. 14) directs Georgia's offense against Arizona in the 1985 Sun Bowl.  Jackson's 1,359 career rushing yards (1984-87) rank 26th all time at Georgia and third among Bulldog quarterbacks.

In vying for Georgia’s starting quarterback position for the upcoming season, how much of an advantage does one have who is mobile over one who is not? Obviously, there is some sort of advantage, but how much of one is there for the Bulldogs’ two dual-threat quarterbacks? A lot? Only a little?

Although he has reportedly improved his mobility, Mettenberger’s legs are a weakness in his game. Gray is a runner, who was put on the field a year ago specifically for designed runs (although mostly ineffective).

Murray has great quickness in his feet and, unlike Mettenberger and most of the quarterbacks under Coach Richt, will make plays by tucking the ball and running. Granted it was in high school, but in the last full season of football he played, Murray rushed for over 900 yards and averaged more than 10 yards per carry.

A quarterback at any level who rushes for nearly 1,000 yards would certainly be a threat to run at the next one, even if the next level is against major college defenses. Richt has even indicated quarterback runs will be inserted into the gameplan if Murray or Gray was to win the starting job.

In considering the three Bulldog quarterbacks’ mobility, or the lack thereof in one case, I thought of the “runners” Georgia had at quarterback in the past. Although, it has been quite a while since the Dawgs had a true, running threat at the position.

Since Ray Goff rushed for 124 yards against Florida in 1976 to the present – a span of 402 games and 24 players who have started at quarterback for Georgia – only two Bulldog signal callers on just two occasions have rushed for 100+ yards in a single game (1990- Joe Dupree vs. Auburn, 1998- Quincy Carter vs. Kentucky).

I’m not forecasting Murray (or even Gray) will eventually have a 100-yard rushing outing, but if Stafford nearly accomplished it (83 yards vs. Auburn in ’06), Murray absolutely can.

I’m expecting (and hoping) the Bulldogs will fully utilize what should be a strong rushing attack in 2010. The offense should resemble the one of the final five games of last season - 243.2 rushing yards per game, 5.9 yards per carry, 66 percent running plays – more so than the offense in Georgia’s first eight games – 109.6 yards, 3.6 per carry, 50 percent running.

In my opinion, it undoubtedly would be a tremendous advantage to have a running quarterback, or at least one who is very mobile, to run Georgia’s offense in 2010. In the past, nearly every great Bulldog running team had a quarterback who could run, or one who was at least an effective scrambler.

Since 1947, seventeen Georgia offenses have averaged at least 200 yards rushing per game. These teams had a combined winning percentage of more than 79 percent - a favorable percentage to the other Bulldog teams during the same time period. Sixteen of the 17 teams had starting quarterbacks who were considered running quarterbacks (Eric Zeier in 1992 the lone exception) while fourteen of these 17 starting quarterbacks netted at least 100 yards rushing for the season.

Regarding the upcoming season, I realize this analysis is somewhat distorted to say the least, like comparing today’s apples or Richt’s pro style offense to yesterday’s oranges or Coach Dooley’s run-oriented, I-formation. The last Georgia offense to average 200 yards rushing with a running quarterback was more than two decades ago – 1988 – the final season of the Dooley era and his three yards and a cloud of dust offense.

However, consider this: There were 17 FBS teams last season that averaged 200 yards rushing per game – an average Georgia could very likely obtain this season. These teams had a combined winning percentage of 67 percent - a favorable percentage to the other FBS teams of 2009. Fourteen of these 17 teams had starting quarterbacks considered runners, who netted at least 170 yards rushing for the season.  The average net rushing yards for all 17 starting quarterbacks was a whopping 525 yards per player.

Merely a thought… Whether during the coaching days of Dooley or just a season ago, it is evident that if a team can run the ball effectively, it will generally win games. That’s no secret. Nevertheless, it is also apparent the successful, run-oriented offenses are predominantly directed by quarterbacks who can run the football as well.

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