Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE
The Bulldogs' running game started hot, but it has cooled down in the past two games. What can we learn from that to calibrate expectations for Saturday against Florida?
Thanks to the magic of SEC video box scores, I took some time to break down Georgia's rushing game in conference play based on whether it had a numbers advantage up front or not. I wanted to get an idea as to why the UGA rushing game had worked so well earlier in the year but not so well in the past two games.
I only looked at the base rushing attack with Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, and Ken Malcome, so this doesn't include things like sacks, fumbled pitches, QB scrambles on pass plays, and QB sneaks with a yard or inches to go. Only on two plays, both from the South Carolina game, could I not determine the match up because of camera angles. Also, I'm not going to discuss UGA running against a numbers disadvantage; they've done it only eight times in five SEC games and, as you would think, it doesn't work very well (-0.13 YPC).
Let's start broadly. Georgia rushes for 6.99 yards per carry with an advantage and 5.72 yards per carry with equal numbers. Some long runs make those figures a bit misleading, though. The median rush with an advantage is five yards, while the median rush against equal numbers is 2.5 yards. Factor out runs of longer than 30 yards, and the averages are 5.24 YPC with an advantage and 3.83 YPC against equal numbers. Quite understandably, Georgia rushes better with a man advantage than without.
Now, by opponent:
|Opponent||Equal (avg)||Equal (med)||Advantage (avg)||Advantage (med)||Both (avg)|
Let's calibrate expectations for a sec. As of right now, here is how these teams stack up in conference play against the run: South Carolina 4th (3.09 YPC), Kentucky 9th (4.17), Missouri 10th (4.32), Vanderbilt 13th (5.51), Tennessee 14th (5.89). Georgia's full-game averages are ahead of Missouri's, Vanderbilt's, and Tennessee's season averages, reflecting the good start the running game had.
I put an asterisk by South Carolina for a reason. These numbers here remove Georgia's sole fourth quarter drive that came with them down 35-0. The game was long over, and I don't think it fairly represented what was going on. The Bulldogs rushed for 7.5 YPC on that drive, which is way out of line with the rest of the game.
Anyway, so what caused the drop off in these rushing averages over the course of the last two games? It's pretty simple: a lack of big plays.
Only nine of UGA's 31 rushes against Tennessee went for more than five yards, but three of those nine were big home runs. Take out the touchdown runs of 51, 72, and 75 yards, and they rush for just 3.54 YPC on the game against one of the league's iffier run defenses. Todd Gurley's 44-yard run against Mizzou by itself raises the average by 1.4 YPC from 3.57 to the 4.97 you see above. UGA had just one run of over ten yards, a 15-yarder to start the game, against South Carolina, and it likewise had just one rush, for 12 yards, of more than ten against Kentucky.
Another thing of note is that the best overall rushing game and the worst rushing game for the team are mirror images of each other when you look at what the defense did against them.
Vanderbilt did not load up the box much. Georgia had 23 runs with an advantage versus just 14 with equal numbers. There is a good reason for that: Aaron Murray was having a great day through the air. He was 18-of-24 (75%) for 250 yards, two TDs, no INTs, and a passing efficiency of 190.0. Murray's great play forced the defense to have to respect the pass, and that led to Georgia having a numbers advantage often. The team, like any team, does its best running with an advantage, so it had a great day.
South Carolina, on the other hand, did load up on the run. Prior to garbage time, Georgia had just five rushes with an advantage versus 12 runs against equal numbers. Even though the Bulldogs had to throw it more because they were playing from behind a lot, the Gamecock defense still committed to stopping the run. Murray could not make that defense pay through the air, going just 11-for-31 (35.5%) for 109 yards, no TDs, an INT, and a passing efficiency of 58.6. Georgia did run it noticeably better with a numbers advantage, but they had that advantage less than a third of the time they ran their base rushing plays.
Granted the Vandy and South Carolina defenses aren't in the same universe, but here's why I point that out. Based on those two paragraphs, you're probably expecting me to say that Kentucky loaded up on the run just like the Gamecocks did. After all, Murray had another excellent game going 30-for-38 (78.9%) for 427 yards, four TDs, no INTs, and a passing efficiency of 208.1.
However, Kentucky didn't do that. Georgia had an advantage on 14 rushes versus 11 rushes against equal numbers. The Wildcats didn't focus on the run particularly hard; UGA's big guys up front just couldn't get a consistent push or open holes with regularity for the backs. That goes for even when they had a numerical advantage. As for Murray's big day, UK's pass defense is just that bad.
Georgia had better hope that was just a side effect of a look ahead game. Against pro-style running attacks that are similar to the Bulldogs', Florida rarely has loaded up the box against the run. In the few times they do equal up the numbers, it's usually because they're playing nickel (six-man front) against a one-back, no TE/FB look from the offense. Will Muschamp partially does this thanks to great line play and partially because his safeties are excellent at coming up in run support. Josh Evans and Matt Elam are actually the team's leading tacklers, and you'll see them a lot in run play defense this weekend.
Georgia's offensive line has to have a better game this weekend than last, full stop. If it doesn't then Evans and Elam will be able to stay back more for passing coverage, something that will hurt Murray's chances through the air. Murray bailed out the running game with his arm in Lexington, but he probably won't be able to against the nation's third-best passing efficiency defense. If Gurley and Marshall don't get openings to make some more of those big plays again, then we're going to see yet another Florida win in Jacksonville.