ATHENS — Here’s a good little bit of trivia to whip out on a fellow Georgia fan: What one game has running back Elijah Holyfield started in his career, if any?
If you said none, you’d be wrong. If you said one the SEC Championship Game, you’d be correct.
But then there’s another caveat. Holyfield actually doesn’t count that one as a career start.
“At fullback I did, not at running back,” Holyfield said of starting alongside Nick Chubb against Auburn last December. “I’m not really a fullback. But any way to get on the field is always good.”
To be clear, Holyfield said he hasn’t been working any fullback at all in Georgia’s preseason camp this year. His carries have been 100 percent at running back, and he’s been getting a lot of them. Most of them, in fact, have come with the Bulldogs’ No. 1 offense.
At this point, it looks like a dead heat between the junior Holyfield and sophomore D’Andre Swift to get the first start of the season in the backfield for the Bulldogs. Georgia is no longer an I-formation team, so there is neither a fullback nor a tailback distinction anymore. The majority of the offensive snaps come with a single back behind the quarterback, and the competition to be that back is intensely competitive.
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Swift, the Bulldogs’ third-leading rusher behind Chubb and Sony Michel last year, is generally thought to be the heir apparent as the every-week starter and primary ball-carrier this season. But Holyfield has made that that a tricky assumption.
Not only has he had a terrific camp by all accounts and holds seniority over Swift as a junior, but he has also been present and accounted for in every single workout and practice. Swift missed most of spring practice with a groin injury and has gone second behind Holyfield in most of the Bulldogs’ drill work during practices.
Too much shouldn’t be read into that, for sure, but Holyfield doesn’t shy away from the notion that he’d like to start for the Bulldogs at some point. Or, to be clear, go first now and then.
“As a competitive player, yes, I always like to be the first one on the field,” Holyfield said after Georgia’s practice Tuesday evening. “But, you know, I’ve always been taught, when get the ball, just shine.”
Holyfield certainly has made good on that lesson.
Thanks to the Bulldogs’ penchant for blowing out opponents, Holyfield actually got a lot of work last season. He played in 13 of their 15 games and got 50 carries for 293 yards while doing so.
From that, Holyfield was able to produce quite the highlight reel. Both of his touchdown runs were worthy to be included, a 12-yarder against Vanderbilt and especially that 39-yard jaunt versus Florida that was punctuated by a dive for the goal-line cone that would’ve been better only if he’d been wearing a cape. In total, Holyfield averaged 5.9 yards a tote.
Swift, of course, got more work and averaged more yards a carry (7.6). He also had more TDs, 3 to 2, and got most of his work earlier in games. So the appearance is that Georgia’s coaches like more of what Swift brings to the table.
The reality is, they’re different backs and they’re both good with that.
“I believe will complement each other real well,” Swift said Tuesday. “Two different types of backs in a great system here.”
But both backs insist it’s not as simple as Mr. Inside (Holyfield) versus Mr. Outside (Swift). Each wants to prove they have the all-around games worthy of playing at Running Back U, as they both referred to Georgia.
“Not at all,” Swift said. “He does stuff differently, I do stuff differently. It’s like Nick and Sony. … He can run outside and I can do the same inside. We’re going to complement each other real well.”
There are other mouths to feed in Georgia’s backfield as well. Junior Brian Herrien has done nothing to downgrade his stock. And everybody on the team — Holyfield and Swift included — have raved about the moves and extra speed that freshman James Cook brings to the group. But it’s one less now that freshman Zamir White has been sidelined with an ACL tear.
Swift and Holyfield hated seeing that, as did everybody who roots for Georgia. But they still have their jobs to do and they’re clamoring for more work.
“Georgia’s RBU,” said Holyfield, using the acronym for Running Back University. “Our coaches will figure it out and we’ll find a way to make it work. Coach (Dell) McGee does a great job with teaching all of us. Last year when we were behind Sony and Nick, we prepared every week like we were going to play in the game. Now it’s our time and we’re going to be prepared.”