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Liberty Bowl Preview Series: Georgia Offense

The Dawgs aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, but they have some pieces that could give TCU some problems.

NCAA Football: Georgia vs Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Well, this is a piece about an SEC team, so I guess I should start it by waxing poetic about what a great conference it is and how much better even a 6-6 ESS SEE SEE team is than any other team ever...

... but, I prefer honesty.

And in all honesty, Georgia’s offense is a lot like TCU’s: not consistent and not all that good, but with just enough flashes of brilliance to give you hope for the future.

The Bulldogs were outscored by a point over the course of the season, netting 24.0 points per game while surrendering 24.1. They were led by true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason, a young man who looks the part - 6’5” and 235 pounds with Bama bangs and a laser rocket arm. Eason, who started 11 games, threw for over 2,200 yards on a 55% completion rate, and notched 14 touchdowns through the air against eight interceptions, was solid of not spectacular, and likely to improve with every game he gets under his belt. Under the guidance of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, a journeyman coach who has a long list of success stories under his belt - including Drew Brees, Steven Jackson, Alex Collins, and Tyler Bray - Eason guided a run heavy offense that leaned on running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The Dawgs ran it (489 attempts) more than they passed (365 attempts) in 2016, and why wouldn’t they? Before Chubb suffered an absolutely gruesome knee injury a year ago, he was widely considered one of the best backs in the country and seemed primed for a Heisman campaign. Though he struggled to regain his form in 2016, he still rushed for over 1,000 yards and averaged 4.8 per carry. His counterpart, junior Sony Michal, was arguable better - his 750 yards came on 5.5 per carry, but he had only three TDs to Chubb’s seven. The duo form a “Thunder and Thunder” backfield for the Dawgs, as both are 5’10”, 220+ behemoths who would just as soon run you over as run by you.

Despite the presence of two dynamic and talented tailbacks, the Georgia O got away from the run in several games, leading to a string of four losses in a five game span. After averaging 43 rush attempts through their first seven games, they ran only 19 times against Florida, resulting in a 24-10 loss and frustration from the players.

“I guess we didn’t think running the ball was a good decision, so we threw the ball more, and that’s the coach’s decision,” Chubb said.

In their final three power five games, they got back to the run game, pounding the rock at least 42 times in those contests. Meanwhile, their freshman QB was struggling to figure out SEC defenses, as he completed 20 or more passes only three times in 11 games, though each time he did so was against a power five opponent. If these things sounds familiar to Frog fans, it’s with good reason, as Bulldog fans seem to experience the same frustrations with play-calling and the lack of commitment to the run as their purple counterparts.

You don’t see much spread offense in the SEC, and few teams play with the tempo that is common in the Big 12. UGA ran about 70 plays per game, which is seven fewer than the Frogs, but if you look back to 2015, and an offense which was far more efficient and more what they want to look like, Cumbie and Meacham were working with 83 plays per game. Seven to thirteen more plays per game may not seem like a significant number, but it adds up, and those extra snaps can change the way both an opposing offense and defense perform.

The Dawgs averaged just over 22 points per game against P5 opponents, while the SEC as a whole managed 27.5. For comparison’s sake, the Big 12 averaged just a shade under 34 points. The SEC was led by Alabama’s 40.5, while the Big 12 was paced by OU’s 47.7. TCU was just off the average with 31.7 points per game. Georgia’s 382 yards a game ranked them tenth in their conference - they would have been second to last in the Big 12, just a shade above Kansas.

Having spoken at length about the quarterback and the running back duo - and we will have more in depth profiles of Eason and Chubb forthcoming - it’s time to look at the last two components - the pass catchers and offensive line. The Bulldogs were led in receiving yardage by junior Isaiah McKenzie, a 5’8” speedster that has a little bit of that KaVontae Turpin wiggle to his game. Having started only four games, he hauled in 40 catches for 530 yards and seven touchdowns, and is a threat to house it every time he touches the ball. Isaac Nauta, the top tight end in the 2016 class and a player TCU made a hard, last-minute push for, has been solid as a true freshman for UGA, and his 353 yards and three touchdowns would certainly have been welcome in Fort Worth. Only two other players have scored through the air for the Dawgs, and only three total have at least 300 yards through the air this season. Terry Godwin is the third significant threat for the offense, as he averages over ten yards per catch but has been shut out of the end zone.

As far as the offensive line, much like TCU’s, they haven’t lived up to the billing this season. In Coach Chaney’s power-run system, a big, tough o-line is the key to success. While the talented backs behind them were able to eat up chunks of yardage, Eason was rarely comfortable in the pocket and the passing game never got off the ground in some of the biggest games of the season, allowing defenses to key in on Chubb and Michal and negate their firepower. It should make for an interesting matchup in Memphis - will the TCU defense that held D’Onta Foreman pretty much in check show up, or the one that let Kansas State QB Jesse Ertz look like Johnny Manziel make the trip. If you just threw up in your mouth a little bit, maybe it will make you feel better knowing that Eason is not a running threat. Like, at all (-52 yards on the season).

I think this makes for a pretty good matchup for the TCU defense - with Ranthony Texada playing some of the best ball of his career, and hopefully the return of Julius Lewis, the secondary should be able to limit the big play on the outside. An aggressive mindset from Gary Patterson - who game plans as well as anybody in the country for bowl games - will turn loose Mat Boesen, Josh Carraway, et al on the outside, while calling for blitzes from a hopefully healthy Denzel Johnson. It will be up to Aaron Curry, Ty Summers, and Travin Howard to limit the damage in the run game, but with the read-option all but off the table, they can play gaps and stick to their assignments. I think the player capable of having the biggest day is Nauta - the Frogs don’t see a lot of big tight ends, but have been vulnerable across the middle this season. If the defensive line can’t pressure Eason, he could pick apart that part of the field.

It’s a fascinating matchup, the Georgia offense against the TCU defense, but I give a slight edge to Gary Patterson and that side of the ball.