ATHENS — In talking about Georgia tailback Nick Chubb this week, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier called him “one of the best you’ll ever see.”
He also offered a simple solution for defending him.
“Like any great running back, you hope not to let get him started and not give him much at the line of scrimmage,” Spurrier said on his weekly teleconference call. “We’ll probably get a bunch of guys up there like everybody else does when they play Georgia and try our best to stop him.”
Two games into the 2015 football season, that’s the book on the No. 7-ranked Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 SEC). Crowd the box and sell out to stop the run, it says.
It also says this: Don’t worry about having to play too much single-safety and man coverage because they can’t hurt you deep.
As the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1) prepare to visit Sanford Stadium on Saturday, the Bulldogs would like to re-write that narrative and prove they can pass the ball like they always have. At the moment that looks like a significant plot twist as there’s not much in the early chapters to foreshadow such a turn.
Georgia enters Saturday’s game 12th in the 14-team SEC in pass offense (166.5). Thanks to Chubb and backup Sony Michel, they’re fourth in rushing at 262 yards per game. At this juncture, everybody outside of the program is trying to figure out whether the Bulldogs can’t throw the football or simply aren’t trying.
Not surprisingly, Georgia believes it can.
“We can throw the ball, man,” said Chubb, who has 309 yards rushing in two games. “It was just Game 2. We’re still trying to get used to things. Got to get settled in.”
Said coach Mark Richt: “I know what we have as far as skill level. I know how we protect. I know how these guys can play at QB. So I’ve got faith we’ll be fine.”
Greyson Lambert, who won the Bulldogs’ quarterback job in preseason camp after transferring from Virginia, is bearing the brunt of the criticism. He performed adequately in Georgia’s opener (8-of-12 with two throw-aways) against Louisiana-Monroe, but he struggled mightily in the first half against Vanderbilt.
He was 0-for-5 in the first two quarters against the Commodores and threw incompletions on his first two attempts of the second half. But Lambert was 11-of-14 for 116 yards the rest of the way.
He also has continued to be very proficient in the Bulldogs’ practices. Richt and several players alluded to how impressive Lambert and the offense has been in early workouts this week.
“We have the right guy behind center,” sophomore tailback Sony Michel said Tuesday. “He’s a great leader. Even though our passing game didn’t go so well, he still kept his head high and led the team. I’m not concerned at all because in my mind — and probably on the whole 120 players on the team’s minds — the only place this offense can go is up.”
Said senior tackle John Theus: “I trust (offensive coordinator Brian) Schottenheimer, I trust our quarterbacks, I trust our receivers, and I trust our O-linemen to protect. It’s a whole team effort; it’s not a one-guy thing. It’s a whole team thing. So I have faith in us and the work we put in.”
If this refrain sounds familiar, that’s because we heard the same one from Georgia last season. The Bulldogs, with quarterback Hutson Mason at the controls, didn’t pose much of a vertical threat either. However, they led the SEC in scoring offense (41.3 ppg) and averaged 457.8 yards per game.
Though two games doesn’t provide much of a statistical sample, Georgia’s average is 41.0 and 428.5 so far this year.
That said, the Bulldogs are reacting as if they want to joggle some things loose. Lambert was scratched from interviews after Tuesday’s practice, when he usually is available. And Richt said he talked to Schottenheimer about not feeling like he had to call games conservatively.
“Be free to call whatever we think is good,” Richt recounted. “Don’t feel like we have to run for X amount of yards or we have to get the ball to Chubb so many times. I’ve called plays over the years and you certainly want to use your skill players the best you can and use the talent that you have. But just feel free to attack the defense in the game the way we attacked all week in the film room. Do what we believe in. Let’s go.”
Richt also said everyone — including the Georgia coaches — need to be patient with Lambert.
“I know from playing that position that you don’t just become super-proficient overnight,” Richt said. “I know he’s played a lot of college ball, but he hasn’t played a lot of college ball for Georgia or in this league or, quite frankly, in this system. There’s a learning curve. Things take time and you get better as you go. Sometimes you’ve just got to show a little patience and guys will catch on and really play well.”
Saturday would be a good time to start.