JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The question was put to Sony Michel: “How did it come to this? How did Georgia, the program known for running the ball, become so abysmal at doing so, and this quickly?”
Michel’s reaction, paraphrased: “Why are you asking me?”
“We didn’t run the ball that much, not to my knowledge,” Michel said. “It wasn’t what they lined up for us to do, and I think we went out there and kind of just did what coach called.”
The final total: Taking out sacks and scrambles by quarterback Jacob Eason, Georgia ran the ball 15 times in Saturday’s loss to Florida. And without Eason’s input/output, it gained just 22 yards, the lowest rushing total for a Georgia football team in a long time.
It may have been a chicken-or-the-egg circumstance: Georgia struggled so much running so it stopped doing it. But it was the manner of run plays that contributed to it too: Often on first down, and up the middle, which hasn’t worked much this season for the Bulldogs.
It was remarked to Michel that it was surprising there weren’t more outside runs.
“I’m sure coach Chaney had to call whatever the defense lined up to, and that’s not what he felt, I guess, what he wanted to run,” Michel said, referring to offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. “He called the plays, and you’ve just got to go out there and execute the plays.”
Michel, one of the team’s most dynamic playmakers, touched the ball four times on Saturday. His three runs totaled 2 yards, and one catch gained 11 yards.
Nick Chubb, once a Heisman Trophy candidate, had yet another quiet day, netting just 20 yards on nine carries.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Chubb said. “We came out here, and I guess we didn’t think running the ball was a good decision, so we threw the ball more, and that’s the coach’s decision. So we’re just out here playing.”
What about the lack of outside runs?
“That’s who we are,” Chubb said of running up the middle. “We always get downhill like that, so it’s not surprising.”
The run-game problems can be pinned heavily on the blocking, a struggle almost all season. Georgia didn’t get any push on the line, with Chubb and Michel often bottled up behind the line.
“I’m frustrated for them,” senior right tackle Greg Pyke said. “Their job is to be able to run the ball, and it goes up front to the offensive line not doing their job. But like I said, Florida’s a very good defense, I could see why they’re ranked so high.”
Head coach Kirby Smart said Florida “out-physicalled” his team, helped by stacking the box. The Bulldogs’ gameplan included hitting some long passes, which Smart hooped would loosen up the defense, but that didn’t happen.
Smart was asked if it was hard to evaluate how Chubb and Michel are running when the offensive line is getting dominated ahead of them.
“It’s not hard to evaluate, you get to see it, you get to see if they break tackles. I thought they’ve had some one-on-one battles they get to win, and if they win those that’s a plus for them. But it’s hard to evaluate when the line of scrimmage stays the same, certainly,” Smart said.
“I think they get frustrated, and I think it’s tough. But I thought that Nick and Sony were really positive to the O-line in the huddle, and they know that’s their bread and butter. They know that those guys have got to play better, play harder, and we’ve got to help them by playing smarter.”