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

Athens= God's Country

May 11th, 2011
11:38 am

Our O has really never been the problem. Georgia was an elite team when our D was stout. We are one year away from being completely removed of Willie’s recruits. We all should be thankful Grantham is here. Year 2 in this D will have the Oooohs and Ahhhhhs back after some big hits.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

May 11th, 2011
11:39 am

Draft,

Also not Saban has a defensive minded background. Richt has a offensive backgrounded. So your point is well taken, hopefully CTG can help with resolving this glaring issue.

WDE

May 11th, 2011
11:43 am

Draft analyst do us a favor leave the Bama boys alone we don’t need to copy the actions of a team that finished 4th in the West last year.And couldn’t hold a 24 point lead vs their most hated rival..troll on .

1eyedJack

May 11th, 2011
11:44 am

RUN THE BALL. It wears out and demoralizes the defense. When the safeties start to creep up then you throw it over their head. Got to have good O-line and RBs. Dooley always seemed to have an All-American on the O-line.

STOP THE RUN. See RUN THE BALL.

dawgster

May 11th, 2011
11:47 am

Amazing how many bloggers (Draft) know everything there is to know about the upcoming season….I’m wondering why should we even play the games…Since so many already know how things will trun out….I think I will see how the season goes before I run my mouth….go dawgs

Herschel Talker

May 11th, 2011
11:49 am

82Dawg:

I have no idea who Joe is. I don’t know where he comes off ripping Murray, I’m a big Murray fan. He’ll be fine.

On the other hand, Coach Doofus is another matter. As long as we have Coach Mr. Magoo, we will lag in the SEC. Thank God he is gone after this year.

HT

UGA Insider

May 11th, 2011
11:52 am

2011 is a rebuilding year for my Dawgs…. We lost everyone on defense and AJ Green & Kris Durham. Our o-line is a mess. I guess I am really down since the news of Washaun broke.

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
11:52 am

draft analyst,

your lack of knowledge is mind boggling.

Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones are projected to be 1st team All SEC once the year is done. Many college football experts predict that the UGA linebackers are the most athletic in the SEC. Drew won’t start but might provide depth.

Jenkins was a JC AA just like Cody and Fairley and they turned out allright. Plus Geathers is stronger and much bigger.

Whether you like it or not, the UGA defense is going to be better. If it drops the PPG allowed by a TD, UGA will play Arkansas in the Dome for the SEc title.

Enjoy looking up at Petrino

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
11:53 am

Can I have your tickets insider? Your doom and gloom makes me puke.

UGA Insider

May 11th, 2011
11:55 am

I don’t have tickets… I have sideline passes a#$ hole!

Richt`s Hammer

May 11th, 2011
11:57 am

This is the year we give up only 30 points a game.

Go Dawgs, Wolf , Wolf.

reebok

May 11th, 2011
11:57 am

maybe joe with all his aliases is a tech or gator fan.

Seth Emerson's Bulldog blog killed the anon posters

May 11th, 2011
11:58 am

UGA needs more players with motors like Pollack. Conner Norman is a breath of fresh air. Need to rid the cancers like Washaun.

Richt`s Hammer

May 11th, 2011
11:59 am

Hear Washuan left the Dawgs to play for a real winner. Central Florida.

Woof, Woof.

Joey

May 11th, 2011
11:59 am

A Techie, reebok.

A Gator would have a lot more to rub in our faces than Joe does.

Teamster

May 11th, 2011
12:00 pm

Bill:

I wish you were right. I went and checked out the stats, and Auburn ranked #1 in scoring offense in the SEC against ranked teams, Georgia was #7. Auburn ranked #3 in scoring defense against ranked teams, Georgia was #4. So, to my surprise, offense is quite a bit more important in the SEC than defense.

Richt`s Hammer

May 11th, 2011
12:01 pm

Just in Crowell has suffered a hangnail injury and will miss the whole season.

Woof Woof

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
12:02 pm

Calling me names now Insider?

Panties in a bunch because I don’t buy your Jim jones mix about this season??

i’m not predicting 12-0 but I don’t think it is all doom and gloom either.

and to be sheeding tears over Washaun is idiotic. He was a cancer. Just like Mett. Just like Gray. Follow the rules or leave.

I’m glad richt is finally cleaning house. He is doing it so GM won’t have to hire someone else to do it.

WDE

May 11th, 2011
12:02 pm

UGA Insider let not your heart be troubled.I think if the D is improved at the line and the linebackers can consistently disrupt the opposing team offensive rhythm we should be ahead of the game. Face it we didn’t have AJ for 4 games last year Durham was very good but I have to think some of the younger guys will step up. Also our D last was sub par if that improves we should be OK not NC contenders but with some luck on the injury front we should be improved this year and set the stage for 2012

ryan

May 11th, 2011
12:04 pm

Does anyone have any info that Crowell will be in Athens this fall i don’t want to scare anybody but heard couple say that his grades have been problem i just hope these are just rumors .

Athens= God's Country

May 11th, 2011
12:04 pm

HT

Do the Dawg Nation a favor: either get on board or get the hell off! This team needs our support. We all get it. You don’t like Richt. Well too bad. Like it or not, he will be coaching this team in 2011. AND IF YOU WANT A SUCCESSFUL SEASON, COACH RICHT WILL GET A CONTRACT EXTENSION.

What do you want? Seriously. Do you want the TEAM to succeed or the coach to get fired? I am sick of your moaning.

Go Dawgs dammit

WDE

May 11th, 2011
12:10 pm

Athens= God’s Country…well said I’m afraid those wanting “change” would as soon as have us go thru another losing year if it meant getting a new coach. And I don’t understand that if we have another bad year a change will be need but to be rooting for that is beyond me.

Joey

May 11th, 2011
12:11 pm

UGA Insider, get your mind right, son! There are two types of commenters on here – those who agree with DawginLex, and idiots (his favorite word).

But he is fair. He calls UGA fans, as well as opponents who disagree with him idiots.

Okay, I’m waiting for it in 1,2,3 . . . . . haha.

dawgster

May 11th, 2011
12:13 pm

@Dawgin Lex…agree with you…please everyone with the doom and gloom attitude, turn in your tickets so others that want to support this team can have them…I can promise I get plenty of requests for tickets and I try to accommodate when I can…so please everyone that feels its going to be a lost season, go ahead and pack it in….I have plenty of young kids that ask me for tickets all the time so they can see the dawgs…so please turn in your tickets…I can promise we can find a use for them for people that would lke to support the team….go dawgs

ac1996

May 11th, 2011
12:13 pm

Love the BLAWG and agree with you most of time. However, I STRONGLY DISAGREE with you in this matter.

Yes, defense is key. However, the argument can go the other way as well. Ball control is key! We have had some GREAT play makers on offense the last few years but we have lacked consistency in our play calling. How many 3 and outs do we have in critical situations. We probably led the league. Why were we not more creative in getting the ball in AJ’s hands last year in big games.

The last year we had Moreno, we put the ball in Stafford’s hands in the UF game when it was Moreno who won the UF game the year before. Stupid!

All we want to do is chuck the ball down field when all we need is 2 or 3 yards. Think UF! How many drives did they sustain with Tebow in 3rd and short situations. Auburn last year did the same thing. They could have thrown it down field, they could have gone for the big play, but they did not.

A good offense who is consistent at converting the short yardage situations can make a good defense look great.

Bobo, in my opinion, and Richt are on the hot seat because of their lack of creativity in the short yardage situations.

Bring Back Wally Butts

May 11th, 2011
12:14 pm

Joe=Dave=Doug=host of other names he uses…..same person.

Teamster

May 11th, 2011
12:15 pm

Everybody saying on the web Caleb King has been declared ineligible for 2011.

Is this true?

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:17 pm

Bring Back Wally Butts

May 11th, 2011
12:14 pm
Joe=Dave=Doug=host of other names he uses…..same person

You are 100% correct. Gets old doesn’t it!

C-Town

May 11th, 2011
12:17 pm

Don’t Compare Jasper Sanks & Ealey. Jasper nerver gave up on his team. He had off-the field issues. Jasper also finshed 2nd in the SEC in Rushing in 1999, Something any RB on UGA current Roster can never say.I am glad to say Jasper has given I.Crowell a Heads-up on the UGA night life, and not travel down the same road he did, With that Said Crowell will be a Stud…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQgW9E04kjk&feature=fvwrel

Get Real

May 11th, 2011
12:18 pm

To borrow a phrase from the late great USC coach, John McKay: Over a billion Chinese don’t give a damn about Georgia football. Most of the rest of us don’t either.

Athens= God's Country

May 11th, 2011
12:20 pm

Get Real

Obviously you do give a damn about UGA football or you wouldn’t be on this blawg, right buddy?

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
12:20 pm

Joey. You are not an idiot.

That was too kind of a word for you.

moron

keep posting your same old crap OK?

You have ZERO support on these blogs except from your 20 other blog handles. Playing with yourself all the time now I guess??

Teamster

May 11th, 2011
12:20 pm

Anyone know, has Washaun Ealey already transferred to UCF? He’s on their roster page.

http://ucf.rivals.com/cviewplayer.asp?Player=412365

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:22 pm

@Teamster

I checked on georgiadogs.com and called the Sports Information Department. Nothing on the website about Caleb and the lady that I sopke with in the SID said that she has not heard anything like that. She did say that if something was to come up, it would be posted on the website.

Hope that helps.

Go DAWGS!!!!!!!!!

ryan

May 11th, 2011
12:24 pm

why would UCF sign a player that they dominated and gets into trouble makes no sense i heard he going to Valdasta St .

Dirty Dawg

May 11th, 2011
12:25 pm

Even the ’sainted one’, Urban Myer, has said that nobody runs the ball effectively without a down-field passing threat, or a quarterback that can tuck it and take off. Regardless of our RB situation, and there has to be some form of a threat there as well, we have to have a balanced attack…and that’s what Richt/Bobo are shooting for.

The defense, however, is hopefully going to be the thing that dominates games for us. Get after qb’s…stop up the middle…run down the outside runs…knock receivers loose from their teeth, and the ball…don’t let ‘em go long…make sure our kicking game is better than their kicking game. Can’t wait to see if our ‘D’ is as improved as reported.

ryan

May 11th, 2011
12:26 pm

Schmeckdawg have you heard anything on Crowell will he be able to arrive in Athens this fall i think there are just rumors about his grades .

Dawg Squeeze

May 11th, 2011
12:26 pm

UGA football….31 years and counting.

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:26 pm

@Teamster

He damn sure is, but, that wouldn’t make much sense as he would have to sit out a year. That’s crazy!!!!! Thanks for the info!!!!!!

Chris

May 11th, 2011
12:27 pm

I agree with you Bill. When you have a great defense you typically win games you probably shouldn’t have, and at least keep it close in games when your offense is sputtering.

However, all we have ever won under Richt is two SEC championships. The 05 title was with a three loss team. If you are ever going to be recognized nationally, consistently compete for SEC championships, and even national championships, you have two “RUN THE DAMN BALL”! This is especially the case in the SEC.

A great defense can take you far, but complimented with a great running game you can go even farther. This is why so many of us have been frustrated with Richt/Bobo, and there reluctancy to run the ball.

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:31 pm

What’s the old saying, “defense wins championships.” Like DawginLex has been saying, if we can get our points down to where it was when BVG was running the “D,” 15-17 pts. per game, we should be right back in The Dome on the first weekend in December!

gdawg73

May 11th, 2011
12:32 pm

Lack of consistency in converting short yardage situations. That has been the biggest problem for UGA football. If you keep giving the ball back to the other teams offense, they will eventually cash in. Good offense makes a good defense.

gdawg73

May 11th, 2011
12:34 pm

schmeckdawg

Brian Van Gorder coached the defense when we had David Green and DJ. He also benefited from a offense who converted 3 and short more consistently. We ran the ball more back then.

Wish we had BVG, but I think we would be calling for his head to roll with offense we have had the past few seasons.

McDawg

May 11th, 2011
12:36 pm

oh i forgot this is the negativity blog-i hate richt i hate bobo i love vince dooley (why???) Adamas is evil

and richt recruits thugs blah blah blah

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:37 pm

@ryan

I have heard the same rumors, but cannot confirm. You would think as heavily as we recruited this kid that McClendon and Richt would have crossed every t and dotted every i. School gets out pretty soon so we should know something one way or another. My bet is that he gets in. I mean Richt would have to know by now if he is eligible or not…I would think!

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:38 pm

@gdawg73

You may well be right sir!

Joey

May 11th, 2011
12:38 pm

I express my opinion same as everbody else, I just haven’t til now called others names. I don’t get to post on every column, every day. This name is my name. Insider is dead on, you are an a#$ hole!

Maybe you’re right about name-calling. That felt good.

gdawg73

May 11th, 2011
12:38 pm

McDawg,

I like Richt and think we should keep him even if he struggles the next 2 years. He has earned and is building a good program. Every program goes through up and downs.

Dawg Tired

May 11th, 2011
12:40 pm

Bill – Obviously, the Auburn exception of last year aside, you greatly improve your chances of having a strong team if you defense is stout. However, the best team I ever saw take the field for UGA had a pretty good running game with a guy named Herschel running the ball. Great teams usually play good defense and can dominate time of possession with a strong running game, especially in the fourth quarter.

Joey

May 11th, 2011
12:40 pm

Grantham’s D will be better, much better. But it may be asking too much to get it back to what it was in BVD’s day.

SEC coaching is way better now, than in ‘02. IMO.