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July 13, 2011

It's All About the 'O' Line

  Entering 1983, Georgia was inexperienced at running back but returned a ton
along the offensive line.  The result were holes opened large enough for even
quarterback John Lastinger to run through.
I was asked over the weekend about Georgia's returning experience at the running back position, or lack thereof, since Caleb King's recent dismissal. I quipped that there had been only one other time in history that the Bulldogs' running backs were more inexperienced (1943), and that was only because the war's draft had depleted the entire team, leaving it without a single returning letterman from the year before.

Although I was trying to be somewhat humorous (but likely unsuccessful in my attempt), as it turns out, if "experience" can be measured by the total number of returning rushes as a Bulldog, the 2011 Georgia backs are the greenest since at least the early-70s.

Beginning with the 1973 season (since the year before was the first season freshmen were eligible to play), I figured the total number of returning rushes for Bulldog running backs while at Georgia and entering each season through 2011. Whether a half-, tail-, full-, or scat-, only rushes by running backs were tallied; no quarterbacks, receivers, etc.

In 2011, Georgia returns a mere 89 career carries by Bulldogs currently listed at a running back position (Carlton Thomas- 86, Alexander Ogletree- 2, Wes Van Dyk- 1), or the fewest amount of all 39 seasons since 1973. Even if Richard Samuel's 114 career carries are considered, the total for 2011 would still rank as the 8th lowest.

Listed are Georgia's bottom- and top-five seasons of returning carries (notably, the average of the 39 seasons was 373 returning carries):

2011 (89 carries)
1990 (92)
2009 (115)
2003 (120)
1995 (145)

1982 (929 carries)
2007 (788)
2006 (770)
1981 (755)
1986 (648)

Admittedly, this doesn't indicate much besides maybe Georgia has entered two of the last three seasons with inexperience at the running back position and, primarily because of Herschel Walker, apparently the opposite was true in the early-80s.

I doubted it, but wondered if there was any significant correlation between the number of returning carries for Georgia entering a season and its year-end rushing totals?

Listed are Georgia's bottom and top seasons of returning carries with the team's yards-per-game rushing average for each year (yards-per-rush average in parenthesis):

2011: To be determined, and hopeful
1990: 152 ypg (3.6 ypr)
2009: 161 (4.7)
2003: 135 (3.4)
1995: 149 (3.9)

1982: 275 ypg (4.7 ypr)
2007: 177 (4.5)
2006: 127 (3.9)
1981: 282 (4.7)
1986: 255 (4.7)

There appears to be very little, if any, relationship between Georgia's returning experience at the running back position and its year-ending rushing results.

The 2006 season is a good example of when the Dogs returned a heap of carries (primarily from Thomas Brown, Danny Ware, and Kregg Lumpkin) but had minimal rushing success. On the contrary, three years later, Georgia returned little experience at the running back position, but the team would have its best yards-per-rush average (4.68) in 15 years.

A friend of mine mentioned the other day that he didn't mind losing King; Georgia losing Justin Anderson, or some other offensive lineman, would be much more detrimental. I couldn't agree with my friend more. Glancing over the rushing figures and digging a little further, a trend seemed to exist between rushing results and not necessarily returning experience in the offensive backfield, but rather along the offensive line.

For every football season in which Georgia had success running the football, the Bulldogs entered nearly all of those with an experienced offensive line. Whether the team entered with experience at running back or not didn't seem to matter.
Georgia's enters this season similarly to how it did in 2009:
green in the backfield but some experience up front.

Two years ago in 2009, Georgia might have returned only 115 career carries, but the Bulldogs also returned eight different offensive lineman with starting experience, totaling 99 career starts.

In both 1974 (208 returning carries) and 1983 (176) - two seasons which nearly made the "bottom" five list - Georgia had little experience at running back entering the seasons. Heck, in 1983, the Bulldogs had just lost the greatest college running back of all time. However, each team returned experience along the offensive line and, in both instances, it paved the way for successful rushing results:
1974- 237 ypg (4.6 ypr); 1983- 230 ypg (4.4 ypr)*

*In 1983, Georgia's offensive line returned six players, including four starters from '82, who totaled a combined 11 seasons at Georgia as a full- or part-time starter. There was so much depth that junior guard Mike Weaver, a part-time starter in '81 and full-time in '82, was moved over to defense.

In 2003, Georgia returned little at running back (135) and, more importantly, were extremely inexperienced along the offensive line (no returning starters; just two with starting experience, totaling only four career starts). Inexperience was certainly evident as the Bulldogs' 3.36 rushing average at the end of the season was a team low since 1970 while the 47 sacks Georgia yielded (an obvious major contributor to the meager per-rush average) remains the most allowed on record for a single year.

So, to those Dawg fans who are crying and moaning about the losses of Ealey and/or King, there appears to be a more important offensive unit at Georgia to worry about.

In 1990, Georgia returned a next-to-lowest 92 carries but had a relatively experienced line (three returning starters; seven with starting experience). Confident of their strength, the offensive linemen even nicknamed themselves "The Georgia Power Company." By mid-season, a few linemen had endured injuries, players were forced to move positions, and the company's power was turned off as the Bulldogs lost their final four games, finishing with sub-par rushing totals and a 4-7 record.

Twenty years later in 2010, much of the same was evident as Georgia, which entered with supposedly one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the nation, struggled to run the ball against adequate competition.

The Bulldogs' offensive line enters 2011 with little depth but is seemingly one of the most experienced in the SEC (two returning starters; four with starting experience, totaling 86 career starts); one which is certainly capable of opening holes, even for the most inexperienced group of backs.

However, as history has taught, if hardship takes its toll along the all-important offensive line (or its members can't get through summer school), experienced can quickly turn to ineptness, and another seemingly bright season can suffer a power outage.


Anonymous said...

So you're saying there's a chance....

AthensHomerDawg said...

"You got some 'splaining to do." Did we return an experienced O line in 2010 with the most reps in the Sec?

Patrick Garbin said...


You're correct - in fact, the 2010 off. line returned the most career starts in the entire FBS.

But if you checkout my final four paragraphs, there's always an exception(s) to the "rule," especially when the Dawgs' o-line has gotten banged up and players have had to switch positions (like in '90 and '10).

Thanks for reading and your post.