ATHENS – When Georgia managed just 21 rushing yards last Saturday, historical context was hard to find. In a program known for its star tailbacks and rushing history, few expect to be digging up that kind of stat.
It took a couple days, but finally it could be determined: It had been 20 years, dating back to the 1996 Kentucky game, when Georgia rushed for fewer yards – only 16.
And so there was Kirby Smart – a safety on that 1996 Georgia team, and now its head coach, at a press conference Monday answering a multitude of questions about the running game.
“We don’t point blame. Nobody points blame,” Smart said. “That’s somebody else’s responsibility.”
And there were also players being asked about the wisdom of hiring a first-year coach and firing a highly-tenured coach.
“Our coach is a great coach. Our previous coach was a great coach too,” sophomore receiver Michael Chigbu said. “You could say it’s his first season, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t play. We just have to get better as a team.”
Blame, responsibility and coaching arguments aside, this much is true about the first eight games of Georgia’s season: It is on track for some very low achievements, thanks to its offense.
Georgia has been out-scored 209-186 this season. Whether it can end up on the right side of the ledger may depend on the margin of victory (assuming there is one) over Louisiana-Lafayette.
The last time Georgia was out-scored for a season: 1996, also the last time it had a losing regular season, going 5-6 in Jim Donnan’s first year. The Bulldogs finished minus-27 for the season.
Yes, that 1996 season was not a good one.
Georgia was also outscored the previous season, Ray Goff’s final one as head coach, going 6-6 and minus-21.
In 2010, when the Bulldogs finished 6-7, they still out-scored opponents by 131 points. In fact, even after a 1-4 start, Georgia was still plus-17 in point differential, thanks to a season-opening rout of Lousiana-Lafayette.
Right now things are eerily comparable to 2009, Georgia was minus-29 after losing to Florida, its record 4-4. It finished 8-5, and plus-39, basically the point differential in a 38-0 rout of Tennessee Tech.
Technically, point differential includes all three units, including special teams. But that’s a bit unfair to Georgia’s defense, which has had one terrible game (Ole Miss) but otherwise has acquitted itself decently.
As for special teams, a good recent run has helped the place-kicking numbers. But between freshman Marshall Long and junior Brice Ramsey, who saw his first action on Saturday, Georgia is averaging 38.0 yards per punt. That would be the lowest punting average at the school since 1998.
Then there’s the offense.
Georgia has 186 points this season, an average of 23.25 per game. The school record for the least points-per-game in a 12-game season is 25.2, during a 13-game season in 2006. (Last year Georgia averaged 26.3 points, which was its lowest total since 2006.)
For as much as last year’s offense was a struggle, Georgia is on pace this year to have less total yards. It has 2,984 through eight games, needing 1,920 over the final four or five games to equal last year – which was the team’s lowest yardage total since 2009.
The good news for the Bulldogs is they have four (they hope five) games left to improve these numbers, and not have 2016 be cited years from now for all the wrong reasons.