ATHENS – The writing is on the wall. Or, rather, the scoreboard. Georgia needs relent and join the masses. It needs to convert to a spread offense and start recruiting dual-threat quarterbacks to run it.
I’m not basing this just on Clemson’s recent accomplishments, though that is certainly a compelling argument in and of itself. The Tigers rode the considerable dual-threat skills of quarterback Deshaun Watson all the way to the mountaintop twice. They finally won the whole shooting match this past season by out-scoring Alabama 35-31.
The rules and trends in college football all simply favor this style of play. You can either embrace it or get left behind.
And Georgia’s getting left behind.
For the first time in the history of college football, average scoring for all teams surpassed 30 points per game this past season, according to CBSSports.com. The 128 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) averaged 30.04 points per game in 2016. The Big Ten was the only one of the Power 5 conferences that failed to average more than 30. The Big 12 led the way with 33.58.
That continued a rapidly rising trend that began more than a decade ago and has been increasing sharply in recent years. It has gone from 28 points in 2007 to 29.5 in 2012 and 29.7 in 2015.
Much of that is attributed to the proliferation and growing sophistication of spread offenses. Their production has been enhanced by recent rules changes that allow offensive linemen to fire off the ball regardless of whether a play is a run or a pass, as long they advance no more than three yards down the field. That, in turn, has given rise to run-pass option (RPO) plays. More on that HERE.
Defenses simply haven’t been able to keep pace and rules have done nothing to help them out. Apparently the powers that be like all this scoring.
Here’s the problem: Georgia is trending in the other direction.
The Bulldogs were actually at the forefront of the scoring boom in their final years under offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. He began to implement more zone-read, hurry-up and shotgun with quarterback Aaron Murray and the results were apparent on the scoreboard. Georgia averaged 37.8 points in 2012, 36.7 in 2013 and 41.3 in 2014. It led the SEC in scoring by nearly a touchdown per game that last year under Bobo. Likewise, the Bulldogs averaged 467.6, 484.2 and 457.8 yards total offense per game, respectively, during that span.
Georgia has been trending downward since. The Bulldogs fell 15 points per game in 2015 (26.3), their only year under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. They regressed again to 24.5 ppg this past season, their first under current offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. That was 11th among in SEC teams in scoring and in total offense (384.7 ypg).
I mention the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinators here, but I don’t put it all on them. As always, production on the football field is ultimately determined by players, and Georgia has trended downward in that respect as well the last couple of seasons. Greyson Lambert wasn’t as good of a quarterback as the record-setting Murray or even Hutson Mason the previous year. And this past season, the Bulldogs started a freshman quarterback in Jacob Eason behind a substandard offensive line and average receivers.
I’m also not blind. I see that Georgia was incorporating more spread looks and certainly lining up Eason in the shotgun much more in the second half of the season. Eason tended to perform better in the gun and with Bulldogs moving quickly. Expect more of that next season.
But the difference for Georgia is having a quarterback that is a true run threat in those sets. Yes, Eason could occasionally pull down the ball and run for some first downs. But he was never a play-making threat that put pressure on defensive backs to recognize whether he was going to keep the ball or throw it.
I also understand Georgia’s place in the grand scheme. The Bulldogs, starting under coach Mark Richt and continuing under Kirby Smart, have long made a living on selling recruits on the concept that UGA is a place you come to prepare for football on the next level. Few schools have done a better job of preparing their players for playing NFL ball, and Georgia has the numbers to prove it. Only Alabama and LSU from the SEC can boast as many players on current NFL rosters.
But even those schools are changing. Bama increasingly looked like a spread team under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and now Steve Sarkisian. And new LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada specializes in offenses that employ a running quarterback.
I’ve heard some people refer to Georgia’s newest addition, Jake Fromm, as a dual-threat quarterback. But while Fromm made more than a few plays with his legs at Houston County High, it’s a different story doing that at the SEC level and it’s not something he’s going to be asked to do by scheme.
But the Bulldogs are trying to get into the game. For the Class of 2018, they were hot after Harrison quarterback Justin Fields and Emory Jones of Heard County. But Georgia was a little late in getting after those guys, considered top-five, dual-threat quarterback prospects nationally, and they’ve committed to Penn State and Ohio State, respectively. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are still in it for South Carolina’s Kereon Joyner and Florida’s Joey Gatewood. They, too, carry top 5 national ratings.
Of course, Georgia missed out the one most deem the ultimate quarterback for 2018. Carterville’s Trevor Lawrence pledged to Clemson this past fall. And while he’s not the consummate dual-threat quarterback, he is considered the No. 1 overall player in America, has 4.65-second, 40-yard speed and can move with the football in his hands. Certainly Georgia would have liked to have won that recruiting battle and failed in not doing so. But who can blame the kid for not wanting to come to UGA behind Eason and Fromm? And Clemson seems to know what its doing on offense.
In any case, it’s not like the Bulldogs don’t know what everybody else is doing or how to do it. Chaney is the type of experienced coordinator who can implement whatever the head coach directs him to do. He was orchestrating a spread offense for head coach Joe Tiller and quarterback Drew Brees at Purdue way back in the 1990s, before it was cool.
And if you’re watching the pro game with any regularity these days, you’ll notice that those guys are running a lot more out of the shotgun and employing increasingly more quarterbacks who are as much of a threat with their legs as their arms. It will be interesting to see where Watson is drafted and what he does on that level.
If he has the type of success many expect he will, it will continue a trend toward Watson’s type of game. Soon, it may give the term “pro style” a whole different meaning.
GEORGIA FLYING LOW
Offensive scoring and production last five years:
Year, points per game (SEC rank), yards per game (SEC rank)
- 2016—-24.5 (11th)—-384.7 (11th)
- 2015—-26.3 (9th)—–377.2 (8th)
- 2014—-41.3 (1st)——457.8 (4th)
- 2013—-36.7 (5th)—–484.1 (4th)
- 2012—-37.8 (3rd)—–467.6 (3rd)