ATHENS — RPOs. That’s the new buzz word, the buzz acronym if you will, being uttered around Georgia’s football complex.
It stands for “run-pass options,” and it’s what has the Bulldogs excited about — and their opponents concerned about — their offensive potential this season.
You might have noticed, Georgia’s pretty good at running the football. With Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall in the backfield, everybody knew that already.
What they didn’t know was what the Bulldogs had in quarterback Greyson Lambert. Just based on what the junior quarterback showed in his record-breaking 24-of-25, 330-yard passing effort against South Carolina last weekend, we now know that potential to be exceptional.
Combined with a seasoned and dominant offensive line, they make for a defensive coordinator’s worse nightmare: A dual-threat attack that requires the defense to choose its poison, but know it’s likely to die a slow death either way.
“It’s kind of scary to think about that,” said Chubb, who leads the SEC with 468 yards rushing. “We’re going to be unstoppable. We’re still messing up here and there, but that’s just about becoming a team. We’re not really at our peak. Nowhere near it. We still have a long way to go. But just seeing how things can shape up, it’s encouraging.”
Encouraging for sure. Ole Miss (64.0 ppg), Texas A&M (46.0) and Tennessee (46.0) are currently scoring points at a higher clip than Georgia (44.7). But nobody is doing it with the kind of run-pass balance the Bulldogs are displaying.
The makes them more unpredictable and, theoretically, more difficult to defend.
Georgia’s 477 yards a game is coming at a rate of 256.7 yards rushing and 221.0 yards passing. In the 52-20 win over South Carolina this past Saturday, the Bulldogs ran the ball 38 times (for 246 yards) and passed it 24. That ratio was nearly dead even (23 to 22) before Georgia ran the ball on four out of five plays to end the third quarter as it began the process of salting away the victory.
“What you saw against South Carolina is the type of balance we’re looking for, the type of run-pass ratio on first down,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who saw the Bulldogs throw on first down 15 times, as opposed to a total of nine in the first two games. “We absolutely don’t want to get away from running the football. We’re good at it; we’ve got good backs. But the better you run the ball the better you’re play-action passing game is.
“The term we use is RPO, but it’s run-pass option and people are doing it all across the country. We didn’t invent it, by any means.”
That’s where Georgia’s offense is different under coordinator Brian Schottenheimer this year than it was in previous years under Mike Bobo. Before, the Bulldogs’ always came to the line with the ability to audible to a run from a pass and vice-versa. They still do now.
But they also have a package of plays in which they actually call a run and block for it but have the option of passing on the same play. And Georgia hit big on such plays several times, with Greyson Lambert pulling the ball out of Chubb’s belly and raising up to hit Malcolm Mitchell, Terry Godwin or one of the Bulldogs’ tight ends over the middle of the field.
They were often very, very open, and Lambert was hitting them on the money.
“It all just depends on that defense and their scheme,” said Lambert, who established an NCAA record by hitting 96 percent of more than 20 attempts. “If they stack the box, we’ve got answers; and if they play off, we’ve got answers. So it just kind of depends on what they do. And we’ll be moving at a tempo where it makes them decide really quickly and gives us kind of an advantage, hopefully.”
It took a while to get here. Between power of opponent and the simple aspect of time to get down scheme and timing, Georgia didn’t run as many RPOs in the first two games against Louisiana-Monroe and Vanderbilt. But South Carolina saw it pretty much all night long. And that will likely be the case as the Bulldogs continue into what will soon be the gauntlet of their schedule.
And that’s what Southern University’s defense will have to brace for Saturday afternoon. With a matchup with No. 12 Alabama looming around the corner, Georgia’s not going to use the occasion of playing an FCS opponent as an excuse to take it easy on them. This offense is based on reads and timing, and the Bulldogs feel like they’re just getting started on all that.
“Everything came together in that game, in all phases, when it comes to this offense and what we can control,” Lambert said of South Carolina. “But we’re trying to go at break-neck speed, as fast as we can. As the knowledge progresses and we get a little more comfortable each week with the offense, the faster we can go and make our calls. Hopefully, we’ll be going faster every week.”
Like Chubb said, “scary thought.”