Georgia’s running game toothless against Florida

UGA quarterback Faton Bauta was the Bulldogs’ leading rusher in the first half with 7 yards on two carries. (AJC/Hyosub Shin)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With Faton Bauta making his first start as Georgia’s quarterback, the Bulldogs’ running game could do nothing to take the pressure off him in Saturday’s 27-3 loss to Florida.

The Bulldogs’ offensive line was manhandled by a Florida defense that  at times played as many as eight men near the line of scrimmage, so confident they were that Georgia’s passing game wasn’t going to hurt them.

It worked.

The Bulldogs, who had the second-best rushing attack in the SEC with an average of 215.6 yards per game, were held to season lows in yards (69) and carries (22) by a Florida defense that was fifth in the SEC with an average of 116.6 yards allowed per game.

“It’s a total situation where everybody has some ownership,” coach Mark Richt said. “We have to do a better job executing what’s called, getting hats on the right people and getting movement.”

The longest scamper by a Bulldogs’ running back in the first half was 4 yards. The team totaled 15 yards on 11 carries in the first two quarters. Bauta was the leading rusher with seven yards on two carries.

To show how bad it was, early in the first quarter the Bulldogs faced second-and-1 at the 31-yard line. The program that has produced a factory line of running backs was stuffed for no gain when no one blocked the middle linebacker, who stopped Brendan Douglas. The Bulldogs tried to run the ball again on third-and-1 over the left guard. Again, Douglas was stuffed for no gain.

Later in the half, on fourth-and-1 at the 36-yard line the Bulldogs eschewed running up the middle for a toss to the right. There were no blockers running right and Sony Michel ran into a wall of Gators, who dropped him for a 3-yard loss.

It didn’t get any better in the second half, with the Bulldogs finishing with 36 yards on 17 carries through three quarters.

After kicking a field goal to cut Florida’s lead to 20-3, the Bulldogs were starting to build a smidgen of momentum.

On third-and-2 at Florida’s 49-yard line, Georgia once again declined to run the ball – perhaps showing its lack of confidence in the running game – and Bauta was sacked.

The production in Georgia’s running game has decreased steadily as the caliber of competition has improved during the past three games, as well as the season-ending loss to Nick Chubb. Georgia rushed for what was a season-low 193 against Alabama, only to see that drop to 165 against Tennessee and then 120 against Missouri before cratering in Saturday’s loss to Florida.

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