JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Georgia football run game figured to be in the spotlight this week, just not so soon.
The Bulldogs’ recruiting class took a major hit on Thursday when Louisiana 5-star running back John Emery Jr. decommitted from Georgia, damaging a position of need and taking a potential 2019 starter off the board.
The 6-foot Emery, already at 205 pounds, had the look of a back who could grow into his frame and provide a blend of speed and power the Bulldogs need.
Current Georgia backs D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield compliment each other well when used in tandem. Swift with his pass-catching skills and pass protection ability, and Holyfield getting all the physicality can out of his 210 pounds.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart explained the Bulldogs’ tailback platoon earlier this week, leading some to incorrectly speculate that Emery may have been sour on that.
In fact, Emery has expressed that while he’s looking for early playing time, he doesn’t necessarily need to dominate the carries.
Some Georgia fans, meanwhile are wanting to see more carries from Holyfield, who leads the SEC with 7.5 yards per carry.
Smart explained why he’s made sure to spread the carries around in the backfield, particularly where Holyfield is concerned.
“I think wear and tear is important, he’s a 205-210 pound back, not a 220-pound back,” Smart said, “so we’ve got to be careful about the wear and tear.”
That’s especially true with Swift getting treatment for a groin injury this season, and most recently, a sprained ankle that sidelined him during the bye week.
Swift is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, well off his 7.6 yards-per-carry average a season ago.
Brian Herrien is another option, and he’s averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Freshman James Cook appeared explosive in fall camp, but Georgia didn’t get him a touch in the 36-16 loss to LSU.
Some coaches and running backs subscribe to the theory that a back needs three or four carries to get a feel for the game, but not Smart, at least not with the smaller backs Georgia has.
“We try to get three or four carries for a guy, a lot of times they get winded,” Smart said. “We don’t have a lot of times they get three or four carries in one drive, maybe Brian Herrien against Tennessee once, and maybe Holyfield and Swift once.
“You want fresh backs in there. If you feel like those guys are equipped to run the ball, they all are going to read the same things, you want those guys in the game and you want to get those guys touches.”
Smart might view all the backs as being equal, but they clearly have different skillsets.
Georgia is shallow at the position as things stand with Zamir White suffering a season-ending knee injury during preseason punt coverage drills.
White was playing with a knee brace, and in the open practice he didn’t run with the sort of confidence he exhibited in his high school film. White lacked explosion and sharp cutting ability in that scrimmage, typical of a player coming off a serious knee injury.
White is working hard to come back from his latest knee injury, now having torn the ACL in both knees, but the jury is out as to how effective he’ll be once he returns.
The Bulldogs have a rich tradition of great tailbacks, most recently featuring two current NFL starting running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
Chubb (227 pounds) and Michel (215 pounds), the program’s No. 2 and No. 3 all-time leading rushers, were more reliable in short-yardage situations than Georgia’s current tailback committee while still bringing an explosive element.
Michel had six carries for 137 yards and two touchdowns against Florida last season, including runs of 74 and 46 yards against the Gators.
The Bulldogs are hoping for more of the same this Saturday and into the future, but it appears those handoffs won’t be going to Emery.
Emery’s decommit drop UGA to No. 4 in the national team recruiting rankings, per Jeff Sentell’s report.
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