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Curtis Compton/AJC
Georgia's offensive line struggled against Mississippi State.

Kirby Smart details what Georgia’s running game needs to get back on track

As great as JT Daniels was on Saturday night, the Georgia rushing performance was worse. The Bulldogs had just eight rushing yards on 23 carries, with sacks and kneel-downs factored in.

While Daniels became the first 400-yard passer for Georgia since Aaron Murray did it in 2013, the rushing total was the lowest it had been for Georgia in a game since 1996.

Kirby Smart, Georgia’s head coach, was a player on that team at the time.

After the game, Smart did not mince words about why the Bulldogs struggled to run the football.

“They kicked our butt. That’s the bottom line,” Smart said on Saturday. “Hey, we pass pro’d better than they pass rushed. And they run stopped better than we ran. I’d reserve judgment until I watch it to see totally what it was, but it wasn’t good enough.”

Having a few days to review the tape and figure out what went wrong, Smart’s tone hadn’t changed all that much on what went wrong against Mississippi State.

“I wouldn’t say there were very often times that we missed a block—I would say whipped or beaten a lot of times,” Smart said. “It’s not like we didn’t have a hat for a hat in some instances. We didn’t do a good job handling their movement more than anything else.”

Mississippi State did have a numbers advantage when it came to the ground game on Saturday due in part to its decision to constantly bring extra defenders into the box. That left their secondary in one-on-one situations, which does explain why Daniels and the Georgia passing offense torched them.

Georgia also had one of its worse showings when it comes to pass blocking as well, as Daniels was sacked three times. That ties the most sacks allowed in a game for Georgia this season, matching what Arkansas and Florida did.

Mississippi State also had 11 tackles for loss on Saturday. The Bulldogs rank third in the SEC in both rushing defense and tackles for loss so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see them play well. But playing this well against a team like Georgia is certainly eye-opening.

Senior guard Justin Shaffer didn’t shy away from criticism after the poor display.

“After watching the tape myself I feel like there’s a lot we left out on the field,” Shaffer said. “We get to watch the tape again and clean up as a team and an offensive line.”

Related: Georgia football winners and losers following win over Mississippi State

So the follow-up question is how does Georgia clean things up and get back to the team that looked like it made strides on the ground against the likes of Kentucky and Florida?

Smart indicated some of it is isolated to the front Mississippi State plays, which involves a lot of movement in stunts and slants. He also outlined somethings Georgia could do to improve as well.

“We have to be creative in the run game,” Smart said. “When people play you the way Mississippi State plays you, you have to be patient, creative, and you have to throw.”

This also the point where we mention a team likely won’t be able to crowd the line of scrimmage if Daniels continues to light things up. If Daniels throws for 400 yards and four touchdowns every game, you maybe live with it that is what opposing teams continue to give you.

But teams are also going to make adjustments. South Carolina certainly won’t feel as comfortable leaving it’s secondary in isolated situations after its top two cornerbacks opted out of the season following the firing of Will Muschamp.

If the likes of George Pickens, Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson continue to make plays downfield, a team like South Carolina is going to have to pull its safeties back into coverage.

And that should make things easier for the Georgia offensive line and running backs.

“The first few games, we hadn’t put everything together. Against Mississippi State we did put it together and hit our deep shots,” tight end John FitzPatrick said of the passing offense. “And it (should) open up more opportunity in the run game.”

Daniels was undoubtedly awesome for Georgia on Saturday and a clear step in the right direction at a position it has struggled at in recent seasons. But if Daniels is going to continue to improve and reach his ceiling, he’s going to need to get more from the ground game.

“The people around him have to play well,” Smart said. “He’s got to get a run game around him to help him in order to reach his full potential and things like that.”

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