ATHENS – Isaiah Wynn may not issue the most elaborate quotes, but sometimes a one-word answer says it all. Especially this week when the Georgia senior left tackle was asked: Are the Bulldogs a shotgun offense now?
“Yeah,” Wynn said.
Pretty much, the reporter followed up in his own succinct manner?
“Yup,” Wynn said, again not adding anything more.
Georgia was in the shot-gun or the pistol for more than 80 percent of its offensive plays at Notre Dame. That’s quite remarkable for a program that’s been known for a pro-style offense, the I-formation and its star tailbacks.
So Nick Chubb, one of those current star tailbacks, was asked if going so much shot-gun was a hindrance to big run plays. After all, Chubb and Michel haven’t had a big impact yet, at least compared to past years. Michel had just 73 rushing yards at Notre Dame, and Chubb had just 63.
But the way Chubb sees it, the shotgun and a running game are still very compatible.
“It’s good for running,” Chubb said. “It kind of opens up the pass option too. They (the defense) have to spread out more. So it opens up the run game too.”
But Georgia is tailback U. What are they doing schematically to not waste that?
“I mean, you can still run the ball,” Chubb said, leaving it at that.
It may be, ultimately, that over these past two seasons Georgia and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney have been caught between two scenarios: Two quarterbacks (Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm) whose background and comfort were in the shotgun and spread, but two star tailbacks (Chubb and Sony Michel), one of whom (Chubb) is at his best when he gets more carries, wearing down the defense and then breaking long runs in the fourth quarter.
Just ask North Carolina last year, and Louisville three years ago, all about that.
So Chaney and head coach Kirby Smart may still be feeling their way around it, finding a good balance. But last year also showed that when they ran more traditional pro-style plays, neither the pass game nor the run game were good. They probably needed to run more shot-gun last season, and figure out a way to still use Chubb and Michel.
One way is using more run-pass options, where the quarterback can decide at the last moment whether to keep handing off, or bring the ball back and pass it. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it results in a fumble, as it did in the first half at Notre Dame, when Fromm tried to pull the ball back and muffed it. But other times it can be a way it keeps the defense at bay for a critical few moments, as Chubb pointed out.
“It helps. Because Jake he has the option to not give me the ball, or not give whoever the ball, and pass the ball somewhere else,” Chubb said. “It can keep the defense on their heels about not biting on the run too much, because it can hurt them in the pass.”
Smart acknowledged that “it’s been a conscious effort to loosen the box,” but said it doesn’t necessarily have to be the shot-gun. It does help, he added, to use RPOs out of the shot-gun, as a quarterback isn’t dropping back first.
When it comes to the running game, it’s about more than just the tailback, quarterback and offensive line. And the team’s outside blocking, an issue last year, remains an issue.
“It’s a challenge every week to run the ball,” Smart said. “Look at teams running on us. It’s hard to do. It’s not just a given you can go out there and run it. You have to earn every yard you get when it comes to that. The good thing is we’ve got a good stable of backs to try to accomplish that with.”
Ultimately, it’s not that simple an equation. As much as the shotgun and spread is proliferating, the Bulldogs don’t’ want to completely abandon the I formation; not only is Chubb around, but things tend to go well when fullback Christian Payne is lead-blocking.
Smart’s mantra, since he arrived at Georgia, has been to be balanced on offense. He said at his introductory press conference he didn’t want to “pigeon hole” his offense. True to his word, Georgia used nearly 20 different formations in the Notre Dame game.
Plus, what Georgia showed at Notre Dame may not be the same offense it shows the rest of the way.
“Every day we walk in Coach Chaney seems like he has a new scheme, a new something for us,” Wynn said. “We’re constantly working, constantly learning.”