Will Georgia speed it up on offense in 2018?
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I moved back south from Oregon, where I watched Chip Kelly revolutionize football by playing with pace. Given Georgia’s depth and the recent influx of talent at just about every position group, wouldn’t getting bodies on the field be a great way to keep that talent happy and perhaps use our newfound depth as a weapon? Both of our QBs have qualities that lend themselves to the hurry-up (Jake Fromm’s decision-making and Justin Field’s running ability) and to the extensive use of RPOs (run-pass option). We have up to five capable running backs, three elite tight ends, numerous wide receivers, a staggering number of offensive linemen and a defense that is loaded with speed and playmakers (though a little light on the defensive line).
Kirby Smart seems like a coach who is wed to the complementary football learned at the foot of Nick Saban, but sometimes the best way to beat a mentor is to use what gives the mentor fits (see Cam Newton!). Is it possible that Jim Chaney and Smart might just use the hurry-up to speed up the game now that Fromm has some seasoning and we have so many mouths to feed? Smart has used the clock as a weapon by controlling it with the run game. Is he capable of using it as a weapon by speeding it up?
— John McMahon
Thanks for your question, John, and welcome back to the South. Your query is a good one, and timely (pun intended).
I believe we’re about to see Georgia speed up its offensive operation considerably. There is a lot of evidence of this, not the least of which is Kirby Smart has said he wants to see the Bulldogs go faster. All spring, Smart also talked about that and how Georgia needs to expand its run-pass option (RPO) game. So both are stated objectives.
We saw that in the G-Day game. We saw the Red and Black squads combine to run 121 plays in the annual intrasquad. That’s saying something while operating with a running clock. Georgia also threw the football — a lot. Of the 101 actual plays from scrimmage, 61 of them were passes, and that doesn’t include several in which Fields or Fromm ended up fleeing the pocket on runs. So, definitely, 61 percent is decidedly a higher rate pf passing than what we saw from Georgia last season when it passed the ball 31 percent of the time.
And it shouldn’t be hard for the Bulldogs to go faster on offense than they did last season. Only Mississippi State used more clock than Georgia in the SEC. The Bulldogs averaged 33 minutes per game on offense, which was eighth in the nation (Navy was No. 1 at 36 per game). Georgia averaged 32 minutes a game in time of possession, which ranked second in the league and 19th nationally.
But there might not be a stat in football more overblown than time of possession. There are so many extenuating factors that impact it. For example, Auburn is considered a spread-option, go-fast type of offensive team, but it averaged 1 minute less than Georgia and finished fourth in the SEC in time of possession at 31 minutes a game. Conversely, Saban’s Alabama team, which you referenced as utilizing a complementary style of play on offense, actually was 70th in the country in time of possession. The Tide averaged only 29 minutes in 2017 and have been going notably faster on offense since losing to Clemson in the 2016 national title game.
So going faster is the general trend in college football, and I think that includes Georgia. Whether it’s Fromm or Fields under center, I believe the Bulldogs are well-suited to do that. Fromm set many regional passing and scoring records while commanding a fast-break offense at Houston County (Warner Robins, Ga.) in high school. Same for Fields, who had the run-pass option on virtually every play while operating out of the shotgun at Harrison High (Kennesaw, Ga.) before coming to Georgia.
So look for the Bulldogs to utilize that style of play more in 2018. But for the forseeable future at least, Georgia will always be a run-based offense and look first to advance the football by that means. That doesn’t mean the Bulldogs can’t go fast when they want to. You can go fast and still hand off the football.
I anticipate Georgia to reflect an overall trend, which is doing whatever is necessary in a given game. Like the game of basketball, college football teams increasingly use pace — that means turning it up or slowing it down — to their advantage.
But especially early in games, pretty much everybody is looking to go faster these days. Count Georgia among those teams.
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