ATHENS — What could Georgia have done better against Alabama? Believe it or not, the Bulldogs were saying they should have run the football straight at them more.
That was the word Tuesday from UGA coaches and players, who remain confident that their running game is still fully operational as they get set to visit Tennessee on Saturday.
“I think our best shot would have been to go downhill most of the time,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
The Crimson Tide came into this past Saturday’s game with a reputation as one of the nation’s best run-stuffing teams. They were allowing just 56.8 yards per game. Conversely, Georgia was among the top five in the nation in yards per carry at 6.87 yards a carry.
Something had to give.
And, as it turned out, it was the Bulldogs. Though they managed 223 yards rushing against Alabama, 83 of that came on one carry by Nick Chubb late in the game. That meant the Bulldogs averaged just 3.78 yards on the other 37 carries.
Georgia didn’t throw it well either in the monsoon-like conditions, which made for an arduously long day for the offense. The Bulldogs logged 11 three-and-outs in 18 possessions.
“I know I wanted to run the ball more ‘cause our passing game just wasn’t in rhythm,” said Chubb, who ran for 146 yards to tie Herschel Walker’s streak of 13 consecutive 100-yard games. “It would’ve been great to run the ball because things were actually starting to open up. If we could have threw the ball off running the ball we could’ve had a better passing game.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did not disagree. He said the game plan was to test Bama’s beefy defense on the edges rather than run straight into its four-man front of 300-pound defensive linemen. But Georgia’s backs could never get turned up-field as linebacker Reggie Ragland and defensive back Geno Smith racked up tackles on the perimeter.
“We wanted to test the edges,” Schottenheimer said after the Bulldogs practiced Tuesday. “They’re big, strong physical guys. But we probably did it a few times too often, to tell you the truth. A couple of times theyran through from the back side. I think we probably could’ve got to it a little bit earlier. That’s obviously on me. … They did a good job defending it.”
The good news is the sledding shouldn’t be quite as tough against Tennessee. The Vols came into the season boasting one of the SEC’s tougher defensive fronts but lost all-star defensive end Curt Maggitt to a hip injury that will sideline him for an “extended period” and dismissed starting tackle Danny O’Brien for a violation of team rules last month.
Despite the presence of other standouts, such as defensive end Derek Barnett and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the Vols come into Saturday’s contest ranked No. 11 in the SEC against the run (171.6 ypg) and No. 14 in total defense (414.0).
“A very athletic group, heavy eight-man front, real fast linebackers,” Schottenheimer said. “They’ve started very fast (in games this season), I know that. They’re up 17-0 on Oklahoma and whatever it was on Arkansas (14-0). So they’ve started very, very fast. They’ll be very similar to last week. They’re going to get up in our face and challenge us.”
The Bulldogs feel like they’ll be better prepared for that challenge this week. Regardless of weather — and it’s a good forecast as of now — expect them to stick with the run a lot longer. And if they get what they expect, Chubb will break Walker’s record consecutive 100-yard games streak at the place Walker introduced himself to world by running over safety Bill Bates.
“Arkansas is a running team; if they can run the ball against them hopefully we’ll have a good chance to run the ball against them, too,” said Chubb of the Razorbacks, who had 275 yards rushing in a 24-20 win over Tennessee last Saturday. … “Arkansas put up some good numbers on them, but even then it was still a good game. So you can’t just look at the stats. But we’re obviously going to run the ball, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Said Georgia tailback Sony Michel: “I don’t think we’re ever concerned about our running game. Alabama did have a great defense and you have to tip your hat to them. … But we’re going into this game with same mindset. Alabama did show us some spots that we lack in, but that will help us build. I still feel like we have a strong running game.”