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

Sleepy Dawg

May 11th, 2011
12:42 pm

Until we get a qb with african descent, we will not have a chance. I have said it over and over. We need more talented black athletes to turn the corner. If it takes our whole team being colored, I can live with that.

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:43 pm

I hate to over simplify the game of football, but, I truly believe that it is as simple as the basics. Who ever blocks and tackles the best usually wins. And that falls on the coaches!

So get it done DAWGS!!!!!!!!

gdawg73

May 11th, 2011
12:44 pm

Sleepy Dawg, that is funny.

I don’t care what color he is as long as he is a leader and wins. A. Murray is a great athlete by the way and had an awesome freshman season compared to other UGA freshman quarterbacks. He just needs to learn to get the ball off a little bit faster and he will have a great season next year. It will also make our offensive line look better.

Of coarse, that will improve if we stop trying to throw the ball 25 yards down field every other play.

ryan

May 11th, 2011
12:46 pm

I hope so schmeckdawg it would be a disaster if we lost Crowell to JUCO Caleb King is borderline to we cannot afford to loose anymore players Chris Mayes and now Ealey i don’t thinks he ends up at UCF .

SouthGaBrave

May 11th, 2011
12:47 pm

ryan, schmeckdawg,

Not hearing anything on Crowell, as he and most other high schoolers are still finishing up.

The word today is that AJ Harmon and (potentially) Caleb King are academically ineligible. Nothing definite, but we shall see.

gdawg73

May 11th, 2011
12:48 pm

Hate to say it, but every time there is a rumor about a player going JUCO, it usually happens. CRAP!

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:48 pm

@Sleepy Dawg

Florida did okay with Tebow and Bama did pretty well with McElroy. Both caucasian if memory serves me correctly.

I found Murray to be more than adequate in his mobility.

gdawg73

May 11th, 2011
12:49 pm

Can you imagine KING and CROWELL not making it!

McDawg

May 11th, 2011
12:49 pm

what the hell is twitter anyways

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:50 pm

@SouthGaBrave

As I responded to ryan, I checked the official website and called the SID just a little while ago and nothing is on georgiadogs.com and the woman in the SID said that she had not heard anything like that. Let’s just hope it is true!

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
12:50 pm

Joey, if you are not the same TROLL who posts the same stuff every day about Murray, Mett and Gray, I apologize. I thought you were one of his aliases.

Now on to Ealey, the saddest part to me is we passed on Marcus Caffey and let him sign with Kentucky because we had Ealey returning.

gdawg73

May 11th, 2011
12:50 pm

Looking forward to moving to the spread if KING and CROWELL are ineligible.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

May 11th, 2011
12:51 pm

Sleepy,

At what time where you not comfortable with the team being colored? Hey, I see two colors.. Red and Black. Your post would infer at some point you only preferred a all white team, but now you are coming around. Dont be a moron, guy!

1eyedJack

May 11th, 2011
12:52 pm

Coach Fishfry’s team led the nation in rushing last year. How’d that work out?

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
12:52 pm

Looks like Boo Malcome is the man!

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:53 pm

@ryan

I agree, it would be terrible if we lost those guys and I also agree that eventhough there was that link showing Washout on the UCF roster, it doesn’t make any sense as he would have to redshirt. But then again, what he has done to this point doesn’t make any sense!

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:55 pm

@DawginLex

I wouldn’t shed one tear if that was the case. I think he is going to be the shocker at RB this year.

Dawgs Roll

May 11th, 2011
12:56 pm

My contacts in athens say that Grantham’s 3-4 D may be the best in the SEC in 2011—the Dawgs are loaded on D—this could be the year the Dawgs win the SEC, since florida is way down.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

May 11th, 2011
12:56 pm

Can fans post to Rivals? Looked like a amatuer post on the site. Also lets not jump to conclusions on King and Crowell. Also if CMR thought either would not be eligible would he have came down so hard on Ealey. Lets certainly give him the benefit of the doubht on that.

SouthGaBrave

May 11th, 2011
12:56 pm

schmeckdawg,

I hope that holds true, buddy. I will tell you that I will trust the reporting done by the fellas over at UGASports over the “self-promoting” of the school website.

Like I said, we shall see.

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:57 pm

@gdawg73

I think Murray ran that offense in high school so who knows, it just may work.

Vince Lombardi

May 11th, 2011
12:58 pm

What the hell is going on out here? Why not a balanced offense with run and pass, with minimum turnovers? Why not a good offense and defense? You take what the other team gives you.

ryan

May 11th, 2011
12:58 pm

Thanks SouthGaBrave for that info must have Crowell in Athens but if Caleb King can’t go that will be a problem with us being so thin RB .

grad92

May 11th, 2011
12:58 pm

@schmeckdawg

I think Ken Malcome reminds me of V. Haynes. Tough between the tackles, good short yardage back, shedding tackles.

Maybe not be the quickest and fastest, but might be the best.

Rooster

May 11th, 2011
12:59 pm

Now that will be some funny s@#% if Richt ran Ealey off and he hasn’t anybody to replace him with!!!!

schmeckdawg

May 11th, 2011
12:59 pm

SouthGaBrave,

Amen my man!!!!!

Rooster

May 11th, 2011
1:02 pm

I ain’t giving Richt no damn benefit of the doubt. Richt should have been fired last year after the bowl debacle which was all his fault.

grad92

May 11th, 2011
1:03 pm

Richt is a good coach. He has done just as much in his first ten years as Dooley did in his. Let the man rebuild.

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:03 pm

Sleepy Dawg..I would really like to drop kick you thru the goalpost of life..what a racist troll you are.

Rooster

May 11th, 2011
1:04 pm

What Richt has done doesn’t make any sense!!!!!

Suicidal Dawg

May 11th, 2011
1:04 pm

If we do not win this year to hell with Georgia. We are a slightly more successful Clemson at this point. I don’t know about y’all, but i am itching for the days of our dominance over the league to return. Richt will fail, and I will no longer pull for this team or donate any money.

ryan

May 11th, 2011
1:04 pm

Our defense will much better the secondary still has some holes now that Tree is at LB we did pass the ball a lot more last year than run and with Jay Rome ,Orsan Charles and Malcolm Mitchell we could go more to the spread .

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:05 pm

Suicidal Dawg hit the bricks we don’t really need you…bye.

dawgster

May 11th, 2011
1:06 pm

@Dawgin Lex…I said all recriting season that we should go hard after Caffey…He would have gladly been a dawg, but we concentrated our efforts on one RB…Now with all the problems we may be in dire need…Of course hard to project that Ealey would transfer or that King could be possibly ineligible…of maybe we should have prepared a little better…Hopefullly Crowell will not have any academic problems and up to this point all signs have been that he would qualifry…Many of the stuff out there is just rumors….go dawgs

grad92

May 11th, 2011
1:07 pm

Every program goes through a few year period to rebuild. I think UGA will on the upswing and make a New Years Day bowl. Coach has won some big games and has coached well during those big games. We just need a leader to step forward. I believe Aaron and Chris Lemay will be the future of UGA football. They both have set a higher standard.

Troll Power Ratings

May 11th, 2011
1:08 pm

Sleepy Dawg = Joe (Sybil), just more of the same.

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
1:09 pm

Run the spread option with Murray, Branden smith, Thomas, Crowell and Malcome?? Still got great tight ends to throw to out of it.

Can we implement it by boise game? Probably not. Would it work? Eventually but not this year. Not enough to save richt’s job.

Murray and Lemay would be lights out in the spread though.

Sleepy Dawg

May 11th, 2011
1:10 pm

I do not understand why I am being called a racist. I am for more black players, and all the baggage that comes along with them. If I were calling for an all white team, I could understand, but I am for the brothers not against them.

Billy Ray Valentine

May 11th, 2011
1:10 pm

Bill,

Just heard a rumor via email from a buddy….Said he thinks King will be academically ineligible. Any truth to that?

Have you heard any such rumor?

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:11 pm

Sleepy Dawg never been much scared of a tough typing bully…I just told you to go away, your as dumb as box of rocks..mess with you I don’t even want to blog with you little fella.

ryan

May 11th, 2011
1:12 pm

I totally agree dawgster we should have defiantly singed Caffey to go along with Crowell i believe Crowell will get in to Richt this year is recruiting more RBs and not just focusing one .

aj11

May 11th, 2011
1:12 pm

@dawginlex

Agree. I think we could run a few plays from the spread this year and be effective. UF killed us with the same play over and over again.

Tide roll

May 11th, 2011
1:13 pm

You let in-state offensive line studs like James Carpenter (1st round draft pick) and Chance Warmack leave the state and those two end up forming the left side of Alabama’s National Championship offensive line! It borders on insanity! Now Kirby Smart comes back into the state and lands a commitment from Cedar Grove’s Brandon Greene, a James Carpenter clone ! What does it take to get Uga fans frustrated?!

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:13 pm

Sleepy Dawg again dumb as a box of rocks…as you well know black folks can be racist too..anyone wanting to limit a team to any color smacks of a racist but I suspect you knew that didn’t ya brother? ‘

Sleepy Dawg

May 11th, 2011
1:14 pm

WDE, that is a wise decision my friend. Just sit back and take it.

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:15 pm

Tide roll…speak racist and LO they appear! Tide roll you think your bunch will be better than 4th in the West this year?

aj11

May 11th, 2011
1:16 pm

Sleepy…what about the basketball team signing so many white guys this recruiting class?

Richt`s Hammer

May 11th, 2011
1:16 pm

No one can be ineligible at UGA. Just put him in the work release program at Clarke Correctional.

aj11

May 11th, 2011
1:17 pm

I think part of the problem with our defense is that we do not have any white linebackers.

aj11

May 11th, 2011
1:18 pm

Just kidding…Sleepy.