A great tailback matters less than a great defense

Georgia's defense may well be a bigger key to 2011 success than Isaiah Crowell. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Georgia's defense may well be a bigger key to 2011 success than Isaiah Crowell. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Let’s face it, your average longtime Georgia Bulldog fan is probably someone who’s been known to utter the words, “run the damn ball” in frustration at times during the Mark Richt era.

UGA fans have a storied love affair with the running game dating from the Vince Dooley years when three yards and a cloud of dust got the job done, more often than not. And then there was Herschel Walker, of course, and a stellar group of backs that followed him in the 1980s.

Richt, of course, had Musa Smith and for a couple of years the nation’s premier running back in Knowshon Moreno. But generally speaking Richt has been more apt to rely on a running-back-by-committee approach. And despite the fact he’s an ardent proponent of a balanced offense, there has long been a suspicion among many in the Bulldog Nation that Richt really would prefer to chunk the seed all day if he got the chance.

Many’s the game at Sanford Stadium where I’ve heard fans express exasperation with Richt and Mike Bobo having the quarterback standing back there searching for an open receiver when there’s three or less yards to go for a first down. That’s when you often hear it. “Run the damn ball!”

Running the ball has been on the minds of Georgia fans a lot lately, what with the impending arrival of Isaiah Crowell and the transfer of Washaun Ealey (who apparently has never understood that in order to be a “premier back” who doesn’t share carries with a committee, you have to do more than talk the talk).

But despite fans’ long-nurtured obsession with the running game, as Matt Hinton of Dr. Saturday points out, a stand-out tailback hasn’t generally been the key to Richt’s most successful teams.

The 2002 SEC champions, even with Musa in the backfield, had only the 67th best rushing attack in the country and ranked ninth in the SEC. The 2003 team, which made it to the SEC championship game, ranked 74th nationally and 10th in the conference in rushing. (Last year’s team with a losing record managed a similar showing, ranking 73rd and 10th, respectively.) The 2005 team fared better (43rd nationally, third in the SEC) largely thanks to a quarterback who could take off running in D.J. Shockley.

What those teams did have, Hinton notes correctly, was “a genuinely rocking defense that made a mediocre running game look like a lot less of a burden. The Bulldogs finished in the top 15 nationally in both scoring and total defense three years in a row under coordinator Brian Van Gorder from 2002-04, and in the top 20 on both counts under successor Willie Martinez from 2005-07. Surprise: Those six seasons produced five outright or shared division titles, five top 10 finishes and two SEC championships.”

In other words, deee-fense, another longtime hallmark of Georgia football, is generally what determines the fate of a Richt team.

So, yeah, we should all be excited about seeing Crowell run out on the field wearing jersey No. 1 this fall. A truly balanced offense needs to be able to know that it can run the ball in short-yardage situations (something obviously Richt wasn’t too sure of in the Liberty Bowl when he opted to kick instead), and there’s nothing like a star tailback to give a team that confidence.

But how Todd Grantham fares in his second year of rebuilding the defense probably will have a lot more to do with whether Dogs fans wind up considering the 2011 season a success.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

381 comments Add your comment

Musa Smith

May 11th, 2011
10:42 am

Joe

May 11th, 2011
10:43 am

Last 4 SEC Champs averaged 220+ rush a game.

Auburn’s defense gave up tons of points, more than Georgia.

Joe

May 11th, 2011
10:44 am

Colorado, Arkansas, Auburn, had three of the worst pass defenses in the NCAA, all beat Georgia by outscoring them.

JaxDawg

May 11th, 2011
10:45 am

Joe

May 11th, 2011
10:45 am

Richt’s 40-3 when he gets a 100 yard rusher, UGA never lost a game when Ealey got 20+ carries.

Me

May 11th, 2011
10:47 am

Mark Richts farewell tour 2011. Terrible coach and terrible offensive staff.

CountryBlumpkin

May 11th, 2011
10:48 am

Joe, We know. K thanks.

Fisher

May 11th, 2011
10:48 am

Auburn was a freak show – an aberration not likely to be repeated anytime soon.

Joe

May 11th, 2011
10:48 am

Richt’s 2-8 vs. Florida.

Richt had a 100 yard rusher 2x vs. Florida. was 2-0 when he got a 100 yard rusher.

0-8 when he didn’t.

Me

May 11th, 2011
10:49 am

Ealey fumbled the ball galore in the redzone. So, I don’t want to hear the 20+ carries crap. He was Jasper Sanks II.

Musa Smith

May 11th, 2011
10:50 am

Me,

Give us your top 5 coaches to replace him. Offensive staff too (if you dont mind).

big o

May 11th, 2011
10:50 am

Did I miss something ? I thinking B. Smith wears no. 1

Fisher

May 11th, 2011
10:51 am

Joe/Charlie/David/Hal/Clyde/Bob/Davis/Albert….whatever. You are 100% troll. 10 out of 10, 100 out of 100, etc., etc.

Joe

May 11th, 2011
10:51 am

Last 4 NCAA Champs, all SEC teams, all averaged more than 30 points a game.

You win with offense today in the SEC.

Richt’s best year was 2007, got 36 points a game on offense against ranked teams with Stafford and 1 back system.

Dropped to 15 points a game against ranked teams with Murray in 2010 and platoon 5 back rotation system.

Joe

May 11th, 2011
10:52 am

Murray had more turnovers against Florida than Ealey had in 2 seasons.

CountryBlumpkin

May 11th, 2011
10:54 am

How many pass attempts did Ealey have against Florida?

BamaDawg

May 11th, 2011
10:55 am

I really don’t think we need a superstar running back. What we need is a solid and consistant running game with running backs that are very strong in the fundamentals (pass blocking, running hard, no fumbling, focused etc). We already have a QB who is another Drew Brees (just in college form) but you watch how much of a better Murray we will see in his second year leading the O. As for the JYD’s on the other side of the pigskin. I think we are going to be pleasantly surprised at the difference a whole year/season makes under Grantham. Many a great teams have had better success when there aren’t alot of superstars on the roster but a team that has very good players and are committed to the cause. If we can keep realatively healthy and have no season ending injuries to the main players on the field…watch out kids…those Dawgs just may fly under the radar and surprise some people….

Fisher

May 11th, 2011
10:56 am

Murray still plays for Georgia. Ealey quit. Quitters never win.

SLCDawg

May 11th, 2011
11:01 am

joe, dave, ben, ward, why all the name changes?

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
11:02 am

Been saying this for years. Drop the PPg to 14 or 15 from 22 and UGA will win big.

joe you are still an idiot.

EVERYONE IGNORE JOE
HE WILL POST THE SAME STUFF OVER AND OVER

MURRAY CAN’T WIN
EALEY WAS THE GREATEST
METT TRANSFERRED
GRAY QUIT BECAUSE OF FAVORITISM

You have now read all of joe’s future posts.

Carry on

how2fish

May 11th, 2011
11:02 am

Really I think this is a riot for years we moaned and complained that Dooley ran the ball TOO much. Back in the days the Visor was a UF and using the “fun in gun” throwing the ball 30 plus times a game Dog fans thought the reason we weren’t winning NC’s is that we were too tied to running the ball. Now your 2nd guessing our lack of the running game..frankly what ever mix it takes to win I’m for…remember our OL is unproven and if we have to start the season throwing the ball until they come together so be it…

CountryBlumpkin

May 11th, 2011
11:04 am

DawginLex, I knew you would like this blog…minus the Joe rants.

82Dawg

May 11th, 2011
11:07 am

Joe=Herschel Talker…same person

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
11:08 am

@big o

You can have duplicate numbers, you just can’t have them on the field at the same time.

82Dawg

May 11th, 2011
11:08 am

@how2fish….I was thinking the same thing…

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
11:09 am

@DawginLex

I think Joe is Doug on another blog this morning! You can tell by the moronic posts!

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
11:11 am

schmeckdawg

Absolutely that is one of his 20 names.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

May 11th, 2011
11:11 am

It just goes to show you that in todays football running the ball to setup the pass is a thing of the past. Successful offenses now can use the pass to have a good running game. Look at what Petrino did at Arkansas last year with a Mallett lead offense. Strong running attack.

Joe

May 11th, 2011
11:13 am

I’ll be back soon. I ran out of Skittles and Red Bull.

Article content swipped from Rivals

May 11th, 2011
11:14 am

The content of this article was swipped from an article by Matt Hinton. Hinton even used the term “rockin defense”.

come on guys

May 11th, 2011
11:14 am

murry better this year…did he get taller?

RxDawg

May 11th, 2011
11:16 am

I duno Bill…. I’ve always thought our offense sorta lives and dies with the running game. If Richt can run the ball, his offense is pretty darn good. It makes laugh to myself to see some blogers whine about how Richt doesn’t run enough.

So I think it’s pretty much equal in having a good running game and a good defense.

NFLDAWG

May 11th, 2011
11:16 am

Big o is right. Brandon Smith will have to give up #1 for Crowell to wear it. Otherwise Smith will not be able to play on offense or at least be on the field at the same time Crowell is on the field. I guess #3 is available now.

D

May 11th, 2011
11:17 am

I agree completely. A great defense makes everything better.

mgdawg

May 11th, 2011
11:19 am

I was wanting bobo to call more passing plays last year. In a bunch of the games I would point out that Bobo called a running play on first down almost every time, and almost everytime it went no where. Ever since southerland left we haven’t been able to pickup third and short, or fourth and short on the ground. Even one yard, lets forget about 3. The truth is in recent years the line has been better, not good, but better at pass blocking then run blocking. They have actually ranked pretty high pass blocking, but we all know how pitiful their run blocking has been and I think the pass blocking has looked better statistically because the qb’s our taught to get rid of the ball rather then take a sack.
I do agree defense is more important then a star runningback, I think defense is more important then offense. Ever since van gorder left it has gone downhill, last year it stayed about the same, this year hopefully it will improve.

RxDawg

May 11th, 2011
11:21 am

“I guess #3 is available now.”

You know, speaking of that… back when Washaun decided he wanted to change his number from 24 to 3, I knew that was a bad sign. I just knew it.

Seth Emerson's Bulldog blog killed the anon posters

May 11th, 2011
11:21 am

Tailbacks are not the problem its the lineman who are fat, are out of shape and not athletic enough. Richts lineman for the past three years would do okay at the likes of a Furman.

NFLDAWG

May 11th, 2011
11:23 am

Defense wins championships! ‘Nuff said!

defense helps, but

May 11th, 2011
11:26 am

last year vs arky we had 2 minutes to go, ball at the 45. get in field goal range, kick a field goal, and win. what happens? that’s got nothing to do with grantham. but grantham’s supposed to get his boys up after bozo can’t win the game…

in 02 vs. UT…crucial 4th down late in the game…what do we do. RUN THE BALL…make the first down. could we do that today? I doubt it.

in 02 vs. ole miss we chew up the clock late in the game and go the length of the field WITHOUT PASSING. Could we do that today? nope.

last year 4th and goal vs UCF…uh…..

i agree we need defense -BUT- we also can’t get crucial yards when we need them.

We don’t want to return to three yards and a cloud of dust, we just want to see our boys bow up and get a first down on 3rd and 3 with the game on the line. That hasn’t happened in about…oh….6 years?

i think that’s what aggrivates the georgia faithful more than anything.

Minnesota Dawg

May 11th, 2011
11:27 am

Either defense or offense need to catch fire this year. One of them will ignight the other. Offense, defense, one of you stand up!

Les W. Moore

May 11th, 2011
11:27 am

Mark Richt has not changed his offense since he arrived. So why should I believe the offense will be any different than recent years? No NFL-quality guys to carry the poor scheming and play calling.

Whomever wrote “Mark Richts farewell tour 2011″ is correct.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

May 11th, 2011
11:28 am

A good defense puts your team in position to win Championships. A opportunistic defense is even better. Watch the NFL Network show Top 10 myths debunked. A offense that can score and control the clock is the best defense a team can have.

Joey

May 11th, 2011
11:29 am

Our D will surely be improved.

Bobo, however, is Bobo.

Old Dawg

May 11th, 2011
11:32 am

I agree with the concept of solid defense leading to championships, but I also know that a good running game is a major assist in keeping the other team off the field.

As for Ealey, the fact Georgia Southern won’t talk to him about signing as an Eagle says volumes. Time for the guy to grow up!

gomdawg

May 11th, 2011
11:32 am

CONNER NORMAN RAN TRACK IN HIGH SCHOOL GOT GOOD SIZE AND SPEED ON THE ROOISTER LETS TRY HIM AT TB.

Athens= God's Country

May 11th, 2011
11:32 am

I hate duplicate jersey numbers.

gomdawg

May 11th, 2011
11:33 am

I BELIEVE THERE IS A ROBERT EDWARDS THERE SOME WHERE COULD BE CONNER NORMAN

Draft analyst

May 11th, 2011
11:35 am

If defense wins ball games then UGA is in a lot of trouble. Justin Houston was the lone, great talent last year. Akeem Dent also to a lesser degree. There is no superstar, no impact player on that D. Not even a bunch of better than average players. Just a bunch of no names. And if you’re pinning your hopes on a freshman like a Ray Drew or an unproven newcomer like a John Jenkins- a poor man’s version of Terrance Cody- then you’re in some serious trouble.

I just saw the already too early 2012 NFL draft projections. The Bammers have 4 defensive players projected to go in the first round- Dre Kirkpatrick the nation’s top projected corner, Mark Barron the nation’s top projected safety, Donta Hightower who is a projected top 10-15 pick and maybe the first linebacker off the board, and Courtney Upshaw their jack linebacker who is projected 28th.

In his 11th season does Richt have anything like that in terms of development and talent on that defense? NO. He doesn’t. Not even close. And therein lies the problem.

Joey

May 11th, 2011
11:35 am

I bet Les Miles won’t hesitate to sign Ealey.

He has to remember him almost singlehandedly getting the Dawgs back in the LSU game in ‘09, after no 1st downs for over a half.

Draft analyst

May 11th, 2011
11:37 am

Knowshon Moreno was the nation’s premier running back for a couple of years. We all make mistakes but that is the single craziest statement I have ever seen on this blog.