Hey buddy. Want to hear a statistic that will stick with you as you watch this weekend’s World’ Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party? Try this one. Since 2006 Georgia is 4-0 versus Florida when rushing for 150 or more yards and 0-5 when rushing for fewer than 150. On its face it’s a pretty intuitive item of data. Everyone knows that being able to run the dang ball does a lot of things that help win football games: takes the pressure off unseasoned QBs, gives your defense time to rest and adjust, beats up the opposing defense, etc. This is not rocket science.
What has, however, looked a little like landing a man on the moon lately has been the Georgia offense attempting to run the ball. In two games (minus one play) without Nick Chubb the Red and Black offense is averaging a very human 3.85 yards per rushing attempt (74 rushes for 285 yards). That’s not awful, but if you take out the first half of the Tennessee game and look solely at the last six quarters it gets worse: 2.7 yards per attempt.
In watching those games I was struck by the fact that there weren’t really a lot of pure "busted plays" in the run game. Generally speaking, Georgia has gotten a hat on a hat at the point of attack. There have been very few yardage-losing rushing attempts in the past two games, even with Missouri working a lot of stunts that theoretically should allow them to bring a guy free now and then just by pure luck of the draw. But what the Bulldog offensive line has not done is maintain blocks at the first level and get up to the second level.
Holes are opening, but they’re closing fairly quickly, too. That’s a problem because there are really two likely explanations: a lack of power (the inability to push defenders around in one-on-one combat) and a lack of effort (getting to the guy you’re supposed to and then doing "just enough"). The second one obviously is concerning for its own reasons. You don’t expect a group with this kind of veteran presence to loaf.
Fortunately, I really don’t think that’s the case on most of those mind-numbing, drive-stunting 2 yard gains. This Georgia offensive line has made its bones the past couple of seasons by using excellent teamwork and taking excellent angles. Whether under Coach Friend or Coach Sale, they’ve looked well-coached.
Instead I think the issue has largely been that the Georgia front has faced big, physical defensive front sevens for three weeks running and just haven’t been dominant against them. With a group that averages a relatively svelte 301 pounds, that shouldn’t be awfully surprising.
But it’s also not encouraging. Especially given that the front seven coming to Jacksonville in blue and orange is on par with the ones they’ve just seen. The Gators start a senior, two juniors, and a redshirt sophomore in the front four. They average 300 pounds across that front, and the linebackers (led by senior Antonio Morrison) close on the ball exceptionally well.
Georgia will be facing a Gator offense which hasn’t exactly been chewing up yardage on the ground, either. Florida is currently 13th in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging a pedestrian 126.7 yards per game on about 36 attempts (3.51 yards per carry). I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to guess that the team who figures things out in the run game will be the one with the advantage on Saturday. What’s worrisome is the memory of last year, when an anemic Gator offense came to life against Jeremy Pruitt’s defense to tally a still-astounding 418 yards of rushing offense, putting the ball in the air only 6 times.
This one is truly setting up as a challenge to the Georgia offensive and defensive fronts, a "man enough"-style game which somebody probably needs to go ask Pat Dye about. You’d have done well in your gentlemanly (or gentleladyly) wagering over the past few seasons if you bet on the team arriving on the banks of the St. John River with questions about its toughness. This season, that team arrives clothed in red and black. Until later....