On the Beat: Georgia run game, front seven have room to improve
ATHENS — Georgia doesn’t appear to be as dominant in the run game as it was last season, and that could lead to a high-scoring shootout at Missouri.
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (3-0) haven’t had an opponent stay within single digits after halftime in any of their games, but the Tigers could be a threat to change that trend if the Georgia run game sputters.
Projected tailback starter D’Andre Swift played just two series in the Bulldogs’ most recent outing, a 49-7 win over Middle Tennessee. Receiver Kearis Jackson has taken snaps at tailback this week.
It wouldn’t seem to add up to a completely healthy situation.
Most assumed there would be some drop-off at tailback for the Bulldogs this season when the school’s No. 2 and No. 3 all-time rushers — Nick Chubb and Sony Michel — moved on to the NFL.
That drop-off will become more apparent as competition improves in October.
The run game issue has been somewhat compounded by the Bulldogs’ defensive front losing some of its dominance from a season ago after replacing five of seven starters.
The SEC model for success — and Coach Kirby Smart’s game plan — is to have a strong run game and be able to stop the run.
Smart himself commented on how Missouri’s commitment to the run game has enhanced the Tigers’ offense.
“To have the commitment and play in the SEC, you’ve got to be able to run the ball,” Smart said Tuesday night, “and the last three games, their [Missouri’s] commitment to that has allowed them to get one on one matchups outside.”
This is not to say Georgia won’t beat Missouri.
The Bulldogs are a two-touchdown favorite to win in Columbia, and the Georgia players show no signs of lacking the proper focus.
But quarterback Jake Fromm might actually have to play in the fourth quarter of this game, something he has not done in the first three contests.
No lead is safe with projected No. 1 NFL Draft pick Drew Lock on the other side of the football.
Lock led the nation in passing touchdowns last season (44), and he leads the SEC in passing yards (1,062) and passing touchdowns (11) through three games this season.
Smart, like most any other defensive-oriented coach, would prefer to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible, keeping Lock off the field and running time off the clock.
But that option might not be available.
The Tigers are forcing teams to throw the football more effectively than the Georgia defense has to this point.
Indeed, Missouri is allowing just 74.7 yards per game on the ground — 3.0 yards per carry — while the Bulldogs have surrendered an average of 101.0 yards rushing an outing at 3.5 yards per carry.
Fromm could be tested to the extent of possibly needing to throw as many passes Saturday at Missouri as he has all season. Fromm’s 46 attempts thought three games are the fewest of the 14 SEC starting quarterbacks.
Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney have substituted liberally in the Bulldogs’ blowout wins, resulting in Fromm taking just 56 percent of the snaps at quarterback.
Ultimately Georgia’s speed and talent should prove to much for Missouri to handle, and by the end of the day the Bulldogs should win by two if not three touchdowns.
But there’s a reason Smart keeps saying the team must improve each week to get where it wants to be at the end of the season.
Two of those reasons are that the run game and the play of the front seven is not where it needs to be to repeat as SEC champions.