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

aj11

May 11th, 2011
1:19 pm

Sleepy…You sound like a dumb white guy. Go away.

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:19 pm

Sleepy Dawg LOL that was a classic ! Your in that class that terrorizes little girls..walk on brother your not scary… well unless you were to take a long hard look at your life, biutI doubt introspection is a strong suit of yours?

Bammer

May 11th, 2011
1:20 pm

WDE that really what you’re coming with? 4th in the West the year after winning a NC? Sure…we should win it every year right? An “off” year with only 3 losses and still winning the Capital Bowl. What was UGA’s record last year?

Billy Ray Valentine

May 11th, 2011
1:22 pm

WDE, what do you think Sleepy Dawgs strong suit is?

82Dawg

May 11th, 2011
1:22 pm

@Bammer ….typical Bama fan…WDE is a Auburn fan, so why are bringing UGA into your conversation just to make Bama look better

Joey

May 11th, 2011
1:22 pm

I love Murray, Lex.

The ONLY Dawg you’ll read me griping about is Bobo.

Alphare

May 11th, 2011
1:23 pm

“the nation’s premier running back in Knowshon Moreno”.

What did Moreno win to deserve that title? I watched him for his entire stay in UGA, the only thing I knew is he was a fancy runner, didn’t do much in big games or against good defense.

Rooster

May 11th, 2011
1:23 pm

Richt is the root of all of Georgia’s problems. I have been saying it for years. You have to cut the main cancer (richt) out for Georgia to turn it around. By the way Sereals recruited Ealey. Richt never cared about Ealey from day one.

show me the evidence

May 11th, 2011
1:24 pm

that the dog D is better? A big ol juco? A sign language D coach?!?

also, some blog to express thought, some to conceal thought and 1eyedjack instead of thought.

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:25 pm

Bammer I just hoisted the B.S banner…your fan base demands a NC every year..you and I both know it so..sorry when you end up 4th in the west of course we ask the questions. So what are your prediction for this year…it was a honest question and I wasn’t asking you or I may have phrased it differently….Tide Roll has it coming.

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:27 pm

Billy Ray Valentine ..Sleepy’s strong suit is typing I don’t care what color the boy is he is one hell of a typist..

Joey

May 11th, 2011
1:28 pm

Richt’s Hammer, some of your, um, stuff is funny.

You need to tell us who your team is so we can give back, so to speak.

I’m guessing . . . Techie?

trupert

May 11th, 2011
1:29 pm

If this defense is as good as I think it will be, Ga will be in the hunt at the very least.

We can debate the pass verses the run all day long but the real reason that Ga has not won the SEC since 05 is a lack of defense. Ga has not had a first round defensive draft pick since 2006 atleast.Things are about to change because this year Ga will have one of the top three defenses in the SEC.

Billy Ray Valentine

May 11th, 2011
1:29 pm

ha ha!

Sleepy must have slept right english lit class when the subject of grammar came up.

Billy Ray Valentine

May 11th, 2011
1:30 pm

correction *slept right though* english lit

Athens= God's Country

May 11th, 2011
1:30 pm

Rooster

Once again, shut your negativity up!!!

You do realize that if the TEAM wins this year, RICHT will get a contract extension, don’t you?

So I ask you: Do you want the Dawgs to win this year? or
Do you want Richt to be fired?

You can only have one. He is our coach for 2011. Get on board or get the hell off!!!

ac1996

May 11th, 2011
1:31 pm

@trupert

Could not disagree more. We have been awful in converting 3 and short especially in critical situations. We have had too many 3 and outs. If we had convert a 3rd of those opportunities, are defense would have looked a lot better.

Alphare

May 11th, 2011
1:31 pm

Most UGA fans including Bill King know nothing about football. They keep hyping some fancy UGA players as the “greatest in the nation”. They don’t know what a good player is even when they see one.

Athens= God's Country

May 11th, 2011
1:33 pm

Alphare

Then why oh why do you waste your time on the UGA Blawg?

ac1996

May 11th, 2011
1:33 pm

QUESTION

If David Greene had been are quarterback the last 3 years, what would be different. I, for one, think are defense would have been better.

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
1:33 pm

alphare,

I don’t see any of that from bill or us. AJ Green was one of the best in the nation but other than that, nobody was spouting that.

ac1996

May 11th, 2011
1:37 pm

Dawginlex…What a poor job we did in using AJ. He should have touched the ball at least 10 times a game.

Should have thrown the ball short to him more on slants and allowed him to use his speed more. We kept throwing it deep only for him to be immediately tackled. YAC would have been higher and he might have scored a few more TDs is he had open space.

monty

May 11th, 2011
1:37 pm

No great running game and no great defense = a finesse style of play. Equals can’t win the SEC. DRAFT ANALYST was right, BAMA already projected to have 4 – 1st round picks to go with the 4 1st round picks this year. They are stock-piling the talent and coaching them up.

JB

May 11th, 2011
1:38 pm

Dooley won a lot of games 14-10….. You needed no doze to watch the whole game. Go to the bathroom, get a drink and Poss BBQ and MISS NOTHING. But, he won.

kaydawg

May 11th, 2011
1:38 pm

Bullcrap!!! You absolutely MUST be able to run to the ball effectiveley especially in College football. 1: In order to control the clock. 2: An effective running game absolutely dogs a defense and gasses the opponents players Hence: Georgia/Bama Blackout (how we dawg fans remember that game)
3: Takes pressure off of the Quarterback to make plays downfield. so in otherwords Bill you’re wrong this time.

Joey

May 11th, 2011
1:39 pm

Aw, Alphare is alright.

He just gets lonely over on the Yellow Jacket Blog.

There is one, right?

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:39 pm

Alphare = yawn.

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:41 pm

monty..Ok my friend they are “stockpiling” and “coaching them up” blah blah bloody blah…so how is the 4th place in the West finish possible…oh I can’t wait to hear this..wonder if it will be “what was your record” or does he have a brain?? Time will tell fellow bloggers…

AltamahaDawg

May 11th, 2011
1:42 pm

God’s country, you are leaving out the full of crap cowardly third option.

Athens= God's Country

May 11th, 2011
1:43 pm

You’ve been reported Sleepy Dawg.

NFLDAWG

May 11th, 2011
1:43 pm

JB – Dooley won, but how about this…..Mark Richt has a better winning percentage than Dooley!

82Dawg

May 11th, 2011
1:43 pm

I guess Bammer decided to leave once everyone started to show how dumb he is….

UGA Insider

May 11th, 2011
1:43 pm

Rumors are flying everywhere this afternoon. I cannot confirm anything on King or Harmon. Also nothing on Crowell. If I were Ealey I wouldn’t pack my stuff just yet. He may get to be the “premier” or only rb left standing in Athens if he kisses a little CMR butt.

Can anyone see as many as 5 or 6 true freshman starting against Boise? I can.

Athens= God's Country

May 11th, 2011
1:46 pm

Alt

I believe that most of the “fans” calling for a new coach:

1. Doesn’t know squat about the game or the history of the game.
2. Has absolutely no replacement for Richt when you ask them.
3. Believes UGA football started in 2000. Yet has no idea who the coach was that year.
4. Is a Techie Nerd Virgin.

ac1996

May 11th, 2011
1:47 pm

You do not necessarily HAVE TO RUN THE BALL. You must convert short yardage situations. If that is by passing or running, it does not matter. You must control the ball and control the clock. Quarterback is not running for his life if he is making short passes.

ugaclassof2004

May 11th, 2011
1:47 pm

Keeping Mark Richt is the equivalent on putting new tires on a car with a broken transmission. If the transmission doesn’t work, you might as well just buy another car. I mean how many assistants are you going to demote/fire until you just get rid of the head guy? Richt’s a good man, but hasn’t been getting the job done. Give him a nice severance package, cut him lose, and let’s move on.

irondawg

May 11th, 2011
1:48 pm

any news that King is out becuase of grades? That is the word. Somebody has to have the inside info, Anyone?

WDE

May 11th, 2011
1:51 pm

ac1996 good points!

ac1996

May 11th, 2011
1:53 pm

@ugaclassof2004

I guess when you have a couple of down years in your marriage you need to replace the wife? Are you over 30? Do remember how awful the UGA football program was in the 90s?

Richt has been a good coach who has had a few down years. He has won big games and has had some good seasons. With a little luck, he would have played for a national championship at least one or two seasons in the early 00’s.

The man has done a good job and has earned the right to get it back on track. Every program goes through up and downs.

Bo

May 11th, 2011
1:54 pm

Irondawg, I sent that question to Chip at the mailbag. If you send it too, maybe he’ll find out. King was suspended for the bowl game for something like missing too many tutoring sessions. However, I heard that he had failed 3-4 classes and would be ineligible for this season. He practiced in spring (after he supposedly failed the classes) and I am not sure if you can practice with the team if you don’t make the grades.

irondawg

May 11th, 2011
1:57 pm

Henderson,Worley, Hampton, and Ellis (THREE FURTURE 1ST ROUND PICKS) in the same backfield in the late 80s and georgia still couldnt beat auburn and the rockers and still lost 3 games and played in average bowl game. What would fans say about that? Oh, the coach was a guy name dooley.

UGA should retire #3

May 11th, 2011
2:01 pm

UGA should retire # 3 the last 2 people to wear it have been HUGE let downs……..

irondawg

May 11th, 2011
2:02 pm

Henderson 3rd round, still a great back, out of cville

ac1996

May 11th, 2011
2:03 pm

irondawg…Great stats.

The problem we have is perception. Most coaches like Urban Cryer leave before the rebuilding process begins. So, there overall record is inflated. Had Urban stayed a few more years, he would be going through what Mark Richt is going through. UF alumn were already questioning him and he had just won two national championships.

With a new coach, the fan base will now have more patience.

RICHT has tenure and inevitably will have loses on his record. People do not like that.

What if Richt would have left UGA 3 or 4 years ago for another job? We would be crying and saying what a great coach he was. If only…

POINT IS…SHUT UP all you CRYERS and let Richt do his job.

Washed Up's record at UGA

May 11th, 2011
2:06 pm

He did have a very nice game vs GT. Congrats, Ealey.

He also DID COST us the 2009 KY game with a fumble on their 3 yd line, the 2010 SC game with a fumble on their 3 yd line and, the MSU game on their one yd line and he fumbled down close vs Arkansas and others. HE COST UGA more than he delivered.

Facts are facts. He was vastly over rated and his net cost to UGA proves that. Fumbles are a true indication of a LACK of concentration.

Good luck to Mr. Ealey. Life goes on.

Go DAWGS !!!

Rooster

May 11th, 2011
2:06 pm

Athens=God’s country, Richt should be fired!!! and quit blogging out of you mama’s basement….
heheeheehahahahhohohoho

Alphare

May 11th, 2011
2:06 pm

WDE,

what do UGA and Auburn have in common?

They both pay a good player’s friend/relative in the name of scholarship.

Actually Auburn is rumored to have paid Cam’s dad. UGA will definitely pay Crowell’s friend in the next 4 years.

DawginLex

May 11th, 2011
2:07 pm

word is that Harmon and King have placed themselves at risk of not being eligible this fall. They need 24 hours and have completed only 6. that’s a lot to get done in summer session.

TECHIE

May 11th, 2011
2:07 pm

Paul Johnson will bring a new level of dominance over UGA football this year. 3 4 will not work against us. Hahaha.

irondawg

May 11th, 2011
2:08 pm

bring back goff/Donnan if you want something to complain about, yes my days in Athens were frustrating