By the Numbers: Offensive line, running game should provide advantage for UGA
Georgia football fans can get their statistical fix each week with By the Numbers — a stats-based look at how UGA coach Kirby Smart is doing in his attempt to keep the Bulldogs on top of the SEC and continue the program’s pursuit of a national championship. This week’s edition of By the Numbers looks at why Georgia might be able to use its offensive line and running backs to earn a convincing win vs. South Carolina.
On Tuesday’s edition of DawgNation Daily I thought I made a convincing argument about how Georgia would use its running game to dominate South Carolina, but there was a common rebuttal to my theory.
Some said, “If Georgia’s going to run all over South Carolina, then why didn’t it do that to Austin Peay?”
This is a question worth considering.
UGA ran for 284 yards vs. the Governors on 33 carries. That’s an average of 8.6 yards per attempt. Yet that number’s possibly misleading. Demetris Robertson — a wide receiver — scored a 72-yard touchdown on a jet sweep and another receiver, Tyler Simmons gained 19 yards on a similar play. Remove those two carries from the Bulldogs total and the numbers look less impressive.
Furthermore, It wasn’t just UGA fans who didn’t see enough from the Bulldogs’ ground game. UGA coach Kirby Smart essentially admitted the same thing.
“We’ve got to have some more explosive runs,” Smart said Monday. “In our run game we probably haven’t been as explosive as we were last year — which that includes scrimmages. We didn’t have the number of explosive runs you might’ve expected Saturday.”
Should fans be concerned that the “explosive” runs missing vs. Austin Peay will also be absent vs. the Gamecocks? Probably not.
Austin Peay was an overmatched opponent. UGA attempted fewer carries Saturday than it did in any game in 2017, and had 12 fewer attempts than its per-game average from last season. It may seem trite to say the Bulldogs weren’t trying to run the ball, but those numbers speak for themselves.
Conversely, It’s the long-term trend of UGA’s running game that matters most.
UGA was ninth in the country in rushing last season (258.4 yards per game) and seventh in yards per attempt (5.79).
Of course, the majority of those yards were compiled by seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel — who’ve since moved onto the NFL. Admittedly, it remains to be seen if a new crop of Bulldogs running backs can replace those gaudy stats. However, South Carolina’s defensive front might provide an opportunity for D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield or perhaps James Cook — when he returns from suspension Saturday in the second half — to give their best Chubb and Michel impressions.
Six of the nine defensive linemen most likely to play for the Gamecocks were 3-star recruits and according to preseason weights, average just 271 pounds. Compare that to UGA’s starting offensive line — which included two 4-stars, two 5-stars and averaged 328 pounds last Saturday.
It should make for a physical mismatch in favor of UGA and the Bulldogs running backs should reap the benefits of that advantage.
That’s certainly been the case the last two times these teams have played. UGA ran for 242 yards against South Carolina last season and 326 yards in 2016.
Expect more of the same Saturday. Swift, Holyfield and Cook might not be Chubb and Michel yet, but they should be able to get the job done vs. South Carolina.