As Georgia started practice last month, head coach Mark Richt sat at a podium and said this:
“I’d be disappointed if we don’t run the ball well. I’d be very disappointed if we don’t run the ball well.
Two games in, Richt has to be very disappointed.
Georgia is averaging 3.9 yards per carry, a drop of nearly a yard from last season. The tailbacks also aren’t showing much breakaway ability, with the longest run in those two games being a 21-yard scramble by quarterback Aaron Murray.
Georgia is also last in the SEC with 28 first downs. And that’s without much of a vertical passing game, thanks to the suspension of star receiver A.J. Green.
It’s not that the running game has been horrible. It’s that the Bulldogs, with a freshman quarterback, need it to be a strength this year, in order to take pressure off of Murray.
Much of the blame has been pinned on the line. This week Richt termed the run-blocking to be “fair,” then made clear that was not a compliment.
“If I had a bunch of freshman linemen, I’d say that is was probably a pretty decent day,” Richt said. “But for that group of guys, I think we can do better. We’re challenging our runners to get more out of what is being blocked.”
The line’s pass blocking has actually been quite good, yielding just three sacks so far. That’s why Richt said the guards – Cordy Glenn and Chris Davis – could have their starting jobs on the line if it doesn’t improve.
“I thought we did a decent job of pass protection,” left tackle Clint Boling said. “But you can’t do that, you’ve gotta be able to run the ball in this league, and we just didn’t do that.”
That the offensive line is being called into question is perplexing. It returns every starter, including three seniors and two juniors.
Glenn and center Ben Jones each missed time in preseason practice, leading Richt to worry at the time that it would affect the offense’s continuity. But Boling shrugged that off as an excuse.
“A lot of people are questioning whether or not we’re talented enough or have enough heart,” Boling said. “I don’t know what one thing is happening with us right now, but we’ve definitely got to do a better job right now up front.”
Part of the problem has been the tailbacks’ availability: Washaun Ealey was suspended for the opener, and Caleb King didn’t play in the South Carolina game because of a twisted ankle.
Ealey led the team in rushing last year, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He had 77 yards at South Carolina, but with an average of 3.9 yards per carry.
King should be back for Saturday’s game at Arkansas. It remains to be seen how the carries will be distributed between King, Ealey and Carlton Thomas (who has 65 yards in two games).
But whoever gets the carries, the Bulldogs need them to get yards.
“Having a young quarterback, opening up the run game will open up everything else,” King said. “I feel like that’s with any run game, you wanna establish the run game before anything else.”