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.

Find me on Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter.

— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

381 comments Add your comment

CFBFan

May 11th, 2011
5:13 pm

Dawgster,

Don’t shoot the messenger. My only argument is that what I have said comes from dawg fans themselves, but hey, take it how you will. But if something breaks on this, don’t be surprised. I am not dodging the question, I don’t want to post detailed inside info on a public blog such as this one.

Didn’t say you had to believe it. The info stems from a blog and that in an of itself isn’t the best source, however, it comes from inside dawg fans so there may be some merit to it.

BTW, word is that King has already failed a class before the finals whic is why this leaked before grades are released and why he has filed an appeal.

BornADawg

May 11th, 2011
5:15 pm

Even though I have never been a fan of Bobo because of his predictability, I have said all along our offense is not the problem. In ‘09 we averaged over 30 points a game, in most conferences enough to to get you to the championship game. The probalem was and still is giving up way too many points on defense.

I truly believe we will see a defense of old this year that will have everyone wishing every day was Saturday…I know I can’t wait!

For all you people who keep coming on here everyday with different names but same person, please, get a life! Your dribble gets very tiring. Enjoy reading posts from true Dawg fans with a point and an optimistic poiint of view. Maybe there can be a site set up for poor mouthers, losers, whiners and wannabe’s and let the true Dawgs fans carry on intelligent conversations about football…Go DAWGS!

kevin

May 11th, 2011
5:17 pm

CamdenMark,

Clearly, you know nothing about communism. Again, sounds like Fox news sound bytes. You should try having an original opinion–and an educated one.

dawgster

May 11th, 2011
5:18 pm

Ok CBF…at least you were man enough to support your sources and state where you are getting your info…I actually have contacted two people that I can trust and they have no such info, but that doesen’t mean its not out there…but I appreciate you stepping up to the plate and at least say where you received the info…can’t ask more than that….go dawgs

Effie's of Athens Boarding House

May 11th, 2011
5:18 pm

South Carolina and Spurrier finally won an SEC East title,
after learning you have to “run the ball” consistenly.
Even pass-happy Petrino at Arkansas understands that.

Effie's of Athens Boarding House

May 11th, 2011
5:19 pm

Consistently run the damn ball.

CFBFan

May 11th, 2011
5:24 pm

Dawgster,

Wasn’t looking to start any animosity, but I hate pay sites and think people on public sites should get to hear some of the stuff that gets said on the “insider” sites.

Wouldn’t surprise me if nothing happened even if there were issues. It IS the SEC.

kevin

May 11th, 2011
5:24 pm

Agreed Effie. A committed, consistent running attack wins games. Eats clock, keeps the other teams offense off the field and the defense rested.

ryan

May 11th, 2011
5:25 pm

Hopefully King will take some summer classes to get his grades up i am sure he will i think Crowell will be fine as well i keep hearing some chatter about Kieth Marshall it looks better and better every day for the dawgs to get him .

ryan

May 11th, 2011
5:30 pm

I agree with dawgster we need wait and see when UGA post the grades rumors are rumors but King has time to get his grades up if he takes summer classes and will be ready for the fall .

fpice

May 11th, 2011
5:45 pm

Once again, it is always another reason that is the cause of the dismal football program. It is never Mark Richt’s fault. I am in my 60’s. I hope to live long enough for UGA to have a REAL coach. Richt needs to become a preacher or whatever.

shepdawg14

May 11th, 2011
5:57 pm

The problem with our running game has more to do with facing 8 man fronts and blocking those 8 with 7 than it does with running backs or even offensive lineman. There is almost always 1 more player in the box than we can block and when that unblocked player is from Florida or Tenn (usually) or any other stout SEC defense then we are going to get stuffed. So while we all want to run the ball better, we have to recognize that the game has changed and we must throw the ball when we are 1 on 1 with a DB and get people off of us. We had great success this year and every year running the ball when the box was not stacked regardless of the opponent. If we will be more committed to throwing the ball when the box is stacked and running when it is not, then we will be much more successful. When Richt first came to Georgia that was what he hung his hat on. I remember him saying he did not care if we threw for 400 or ran for 400. We were going to take what the defense gave us. We are no longer that team. We are going to run x amount of times come hell or high water and it is getting us beat again and again. The reverse holds true for our defense. Go Dawgs!

dawgster

May 11th, 2011
6:00 pm

@CBF…didn’t take as animosity, probably shouldn’t have singled you out, so I apologize for that…just felt that alot of info was being thrown out there by many with nothing substantial to back it up…thats all….I understand rumors and inside info…i get that…been given that before and some pan out, others don’t….I’m always going to defend the dawg program, don’t always agree with everything that goes on, but will defend them when I feel the need..You and me are good…I just hope others will be careful what they post and not spread stuff without at least disclosing where a rumor is coming from..and right now, it appears that there are plenty of rumors to go around, hopefully only the good ones will come to light…go dawgs

BirdDog

May 11th, 2011
6:02 pm

Shep, you are spot on sir! Excellent points.

ryan

May 11th, 2011
6:12 pm

Hey dawgster i agree we just need wait and see what the grades are 247 sports will have something on this just hope these are just rumors nothing else .

dawgster

May 11th, 2011
6:13 pm

@fpice…since you are old enough, then surely you remember the 90’s…was that Coach Richt’s fault also?…Do you even have a clue as to his record over the past 10 years on not where it ranks among georgia coaches, but nationally as well…Of course you don’t…Know one is denying the past couple years have not been what we expected…and regardless of what you think about last years record, the fact is that with a few breaks here or there and possibly some players that actually were out on the field not making some mistakes(which is part of any sport), we could have had some wins, but it didn’t happen and it is what it is…

I personally don’t won’t to see us regroup and start over, perhaps many do, but I believe that Coach Richt has done enough for UGA over the past 10 years to be given the opportunity to turn things around…If it doesn’t happen, and I suspect you and others hope it doesn’t so you can get your wish, then I have faith in Greg…He is a true dawg all the way and will do what’s best for the program…so be patient and see what transpires…Myself, I hoping and supporting our team as hard, if not harder next year…go dawgs….Oh and please is it not time to stop the “preacher man” analogy…Really you’re in your 60’s and yet you throw out childish stuff like that about a man who happens to also have strong Christian Beliefs…Say what you want about Coaching or whatever, but is it relative to use the term ‘preacher man”..I would think he deserves a little more respect than that…

dawgster

May 11th, 2011
6:19 pm

@ryan…agree, but if there are any truths to this info, the coaching staff will take a bashing from the so called dawg fans on here, but in my opinion many of them are not true dawg fans..you see now why last year I was basically screaming to go get Marcus Caffey..Through some coaching contacts this young man would have been a dawg without hesitation, but we evidently didn’t concentrate our efforts there..Yes we won the battle for Crowell, but I knew and felt concern that we were not putting all of our efforts into a RB that actually wanted to be a dawg…There was also one other RB, that left the state that we could have also had, if we had tweaked the relationship a little sooner….go dawgs

SouthernBred

May 11th, 2011
6:23 pm

I bet ole Spurrier thinks a great tailback is a lot more important than a great defense.

SPurrier beat Bama, Florida & Georgia with his new tailback in the same season.

Dawg 39

May 11th, 2011
6:26 pm

The OL was the problem last year & may be the problem this year. 8 in the box & 7 blockers will always be a problem (beats 9 blocking 11) & that is why passing is essential in CFB today.
We will see after the 2011 season ends but meanwhile I support thr Dawgs & the Coaches.
None of the current Dawg Coaches need to be concerned about their long term futures. They will all be around sucessfully for a long period of time. It Is their Bashers that need to check their Hole Card.

Beast from the East

May 11th, 2011
6:51 pm

Defense wins championships. There is the rare exception, like Auburn last year and Texas when they had Vince Young. UF has won 3 NC’s without a “premier” tailback. You DO need to have a balanced offensive attack, but a Hershel Walker is not required.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

May 11th, 2011
7:06 pm

How about USC? Oklahoma? It is not a rare exception. Teams with lethal offensive weapons at the skill positions in College Football go far. When was the last National Champion a grind it out defensively set team? The 2000 NT game UO/FSU was 13-2. Every other NT game is like a game of Madden Football. Go check the scores. Teams need to score points in bunchs and have a solid, opportunistic defense.

Effie's of Athens Boarding House

May 11th, 2011
7:08 pm

Unfortunately,
the jury is still out concerning Todd Grantham and his 3-4 defense.

First losing record in many years under his defensive watch.

Megan

May 11th, 2011
7:08 pm

As I have heard all my life… “Even if YOU score, you will sometimes lose but, if THEY dont score, THEY will NEVER win!

Paddy

May 11th, 2011
7:10 pm

Joe you are sooooo right. You win championships with offense. Bill should be focused on the OL. If we have a repeat of the last 2 years, we are looking at a 6 win season.

Chris

May 11th, 2011
7:21 pm

Bill,
I have loved the hire of Mark Richt since his first season. I remember him trying to run a version of a two minute offense the entire game and he brought results. Those early teams had swagger, emotional toughness, punch you in the mouth mentality. Much of that credit has to go to Van Gorder.
But for the first time, I am starting to doubt his ability. I hope it’s just one of those cyclical things and he has shown some ability to change although it’s glacial…those directional kicks were a nightmare. Strength and conditioning..all you have to do is look at how Alabama players fill out their uniforms.

Given how most people think this may be Richt’s last season (which I would hate), who would most people want to hire in his place? I would definitely target Chris Peterson from Boise State or the coach at TCU. Those teams are just fundamentally sound. Really hope that doesn’t come down to that. I’ve been a passionate dog fan for 35 years, living and dying on every play. I only plan on living another 20 years so please, I’m begging for one more magical season like ‘80. If not that, then at least can we be in the national picture with ESPN discussing us late in November?

Beast from the East

May 11th, 2011
7:43 pm

Lowcountry,
I disagree. LSU won because of their defense in 2003 and 2007. UF won because of their defense in 2006 and in large part 2008. In 2006 UF’s defense dominated the most potent attack in the country (OSU). In 2008 UF won because they shut down the highest scoring offense of all time (OU). If offenses were more important, then UF would not have beaten either of those teams. Yes, you have to have a pretty good offense to win it all, but most of the time the better defense is the difference.

CamdenMark

May 11th, 2011
7:50 pm

UGA’s problems over the last few years have all been coaching related.Poor execution,missed assignments,players out of position,undisciplined on and off the field,weak and poorly conditioned.
I have seen no real lack of talent,just effort and motivation,something that also falls on the coachs.
Having said all that I hope the changes in Coach Richts work load (etc) ,Coach T in the conditioning program and Coach Granthem,who appears to be instilling a little much needed fire, at DC will get things turned around.Coach Richt is a fine man and I like him alot but the job of a 2 mil + dollar a year coach is to field a good FB team that wins games or at the very least is “in” games and does not embarrass the school and the state.

truedawg

May 11th, 2011
7:57 pm

Mark Richt knows what the…ok. The defense will be a wall agianst the run this year. You saw it here first. no team will have success running the ball against the Dawgs. Our pass defense will depend on or pass rushers. Our cover guys will need to get better, hopefully they will improve. Our offense needs to work on some screen plays. use those tight ends. The running game will depend on the O line. I truthfully have no idea. How many times have we thought we were stacked on the line just to be disappointed. I can’t wait to see if the conditioning is there, from the looks of the players the strength is coming right along.
GO DAWGS!!!

truedawg

May 11th, 2011
8:07 pm

Beast I agree, a D wins Titles. And alot of Luck (see LSU) If our D could have held, we would have beat AU last year! UF’s D was awsome there last title. Last Bama title was impressive D. I’m really not overly worried about the running game. We have some talent there, i just can’t say it enough..O line. championships are won in the trenches. Last year our linemen were fat, slow, and weak. …uninspired. I love CMR I just hope he can right the ship. I’ll be cheering him and the DAWGS in the Dome!

Coolio is Awesome

May 11th, 2011
8:24 pm

Bunch of keybangers

It Ain't Rocket Science

May 11th, 2011
8:35 pm

If our D controls the line of scrimmage, they can force mistakes and give opportunities for the offense. Our D line is going to be somewhere in the area of good to truely great so the opportunity will be there.
We may still have a decent running game if King steps up to the plate, and gives his all. Crowell, in my opinion, will need to be worked into the offense slowly so he can adjust to the big ole boys on the other side from different teams. No sure yet about Boo, but he could also be significant as well, provided he learns how to block when needed and does not get hurt.
The defense will have to be the strength of UGA this fall and I think they have the players to be a top defense. We will need our secondary to step it up a little but I think they can and will. I was a little skeptical at first about going to a 3-4 defensive setup, but I now believe, with the big uglies we have to man the front, they are going to be very good.

rocketfuel

May 11th, 2011
9:02 pm

CMR needs to let the coaches chew some ass if needed,without Saint Richt getting on to them for it.,

bwkdawg

May 11th, 2011
9:03 pm

As far as the eligibility issues Im hearing the samething on rivals, but from what they say, jenkins issue has to do with a class he had previously taken and passed he some how got schedueled in that class again and when he realized he had already taken that class he stop going to that class but forgot to drop it, but they say sources at MGC say the issue is being resolved, also according to rivals king and harmon’s issues are being appealed. This is coming from one of the sports writers at rivals.

Return to Glory

May 11th, 2011
9:05 pm

Well said Bill, you ain’t gonna lose if the other team can’t score !!!

KB

May 11th, 2011
9:10 pm

there are many aspects to having a wining team/program. Defense has been one of biggest shortcomings of late. But our list is long: not being able score in the red zone, turnovers, penalties, laying-down-and quitting, off field discipline, special teams etc.

Good luck CMR. You are a great man and role model but if you don’t turn it around we’ll see you on ESPN opposite Holtz.

Bawbie

May 11th, 2011
9:16 pm

Diamond dogs lose to Mercer. FIRE DAVE PERNO! FIRE MARK RICHT!

SOGADOG

May 11th, 2011
9:25 pm

I disagree look at South Carolna, they always throw the ball and play good defense but they did not win an SEC east until Lattimore arrived.

dawg48

May 11th, 2011
9:26 pm

I want to see a great deffence and a great running game! heck and a great passing attack to! is that to much to ask?

Dallas,Tx Dawg

May 11th, 2011
9:31 pm

As soon as any of you think you can do better, apply for the job !!! like to see how many SEC championships you’d win !!!

CMR Titanic

May 11th, 2011
9:54 pm

As of today The Boise Game was still not sold out. Many UGA fans know this program is in BIG trouble.

rocketfuel

May 11th, 2011
9:54 pm

Spoken like a TRUE TX.,Disney Dawg

Steve Superior

May 11th, 2011
9:57 pm

You inbred rednecks Crowell is no Latimore. South Carolina makes it two in a row over the pups. Put that in your pipe and smoke it with your former guy Justin Houston.

D Rules

May 11th, 2011
10:04 pm

This could be the best Ga D in 20 years in Athens. Grantham is building a machine—this D will shut down sc and fla cold—mark it down. Ga wins the SEC east.

P. Bull Terrier

May 11th, 2011
11:08 pm

Too many Georgia fans are still living in the Hershel Walker years. College football has changed since the days when you could simply hand the ball to a back like Hershel 90% of the time and let him do his thing. Defensive players are stronger and faster than they were in Hershel’s day, and the defensive schemes are much more complex. That’s not to say that a great running back doesn’t make a difference in an offense, or that a good running game doesn’t improve a team’s chances to win, but it takes more than a great running game to win in the SEC today.

I have seen a few people (probably Joe, posing as a few people) claim that Washan Ealey was as good as Hershel because they both averaged a similar 5+ yards per carry, and imply that Georgia and Ealey could have duplicated the success of Hershel’s early 80’s teams if Richt would have only handed the ball to Ealey more often. Ignoring the fact that Hershel works harder every day before lunch than Ealey has in his life, the idea that a player averaging 5+ yards per carry in a balanced offense could do the same thing in an offense where everyone in the stadium knows he’s going to run the ball play after play completely ignores the improvements on the defensive side of the ball in the last several decades.

If Georgia’s defense can improve to the point where it is among the top defenses in the SEC, they have more than enough weapons on the offensive side of the ball to get the job done.

Ed (The Original)

May 11th, 2011
11:18 pm

I drank the Mark Richt Kool Aid for years, but the ‘08 season really opened my eyes. We won 10 games on superior talent (NFL 1st round talent in a couple of cases), but collapsed whenever challenged by a tough opponent – Alabama and Florida, and Tech in the second half. ‘09 and ‘10 only reinforced my belief that Richt simply isn’t a good coach. And he brings in a low-rent class of players from a character standpoint. Ealey is just the latest example. Richt is infatuated with the bad boys; they just need to have 4 stars by their name. How’s that working out for you, coach? Hopefully ‘11 really will be his farewell tour, his act has worn thin.

icedawg

May 11th, 2011
11:20 pm

Let’s see, you keep your opponent from scoring, you kick a field goal and win! Don’t know if it is a trend but last year was not the year of the defense on any team. People want high scoring games, they got ‘em. There was no stellar defense in the SEC or any other conference that I can remember. I wonder what a team would be like if it had both a decent defense and offense? Hadn’t seen that at UGA in a while. Maybe this is the year.

RED DOG 77

May 12th, 2011
12:22 am

No doubt, our defense will be the strength of our football team this year………One thing to remember my doubting friends out there, though our “skill” players on offense are basically untested, there is talent………especially with Crowell’s arrival, most would say “BUT LOOK AT OUR PITIFUL OLINE”…………..You might also want to think about the “new” strength and conditioning program that has made monsters out of our dline…………must have been some effect on the oline, wouldn’t ya say?………becha our Oline will surprise alot of people this year………..RED

Chris

May 12th, 2011
12:34 am

This could be the year but what have we seen in the past seven years or so that wins championships? Florida, Auburn, and their competition such as Oregon and Oklahoma running some form of the spread offense. Look at the immediate success Mullen had at lowly MSU installing that offense. They were a solid competitor in the SEC and just weedwhacked Michigan in the bowl game (not to say that was a great accomplishment).

But the point is that Malzahn and before him, Borges, ran simple spread offenses that were confusing as all hell to defenses. I understand Richt is married to the pro style offense and his system gets college players ready for the next step but at this level, can’t we put in some kind of packages at least for the guys who can move like Murray and Lemay to mix it up a little bit?
Richt talked about ‘cutting edge’ football during his post season press conference. If he were to stick with his base offense, mix in the two minute offense like he did the first year or so and add elements of the spread offense…that would be something akin to ‘cutting edge’.

Then again, they get 29 days of practice in August so my brilliant analyses is not realistic in the least. Come on man, just block on the offensive line. All we heard last year was what a strength our running game would be with the most talented group of juniors and seniors having the most consecutive starts in the SEC. We could hardly run the ball against LA-Lafayette and Murray was running for his life over half the time. That unit couldn’t run or pass block. All that hype including what a magician Stacy Searles was at coaching the offensive line…I don’t get it, I really don’t. Coming into last season, we were sure to have a great running game and solid O line, the defense was a question mark but the great unanswered question was Murray. He had his worst games against the best competition but for a true freshman, he was not the main problem.

If we’re really looking at this being Richt’s last season which I would hate then who do you replace him with? It’s so easy to say ‘play the back up QB or fire everyone, Bobo can’t run a consistent offensive attack (which is true at times, even when momentum seems handed to him), but like so many venues in life, most people just complain and fail to offer solid alternative answers. Who would you people like to see as next coach if Richt is gone after next year? Who would be better than Richt?
Chris Peterson, Gary Patterson, Gus Malzahn?

Chris

May 12th, 2011
12:38 am

Like Dallas TX Dawg said…’as soon as one of you people think you’re capable of winning two SEC championship (especially in this current time), go ahead and apply for the job.

Ed (The Original)

May 12th, 2011
1:12 am

I’m capable of calling an off-tackle run on 4th and inches near the UCF goal line. Or a quarterback sneak. Maybe I should apply for the job.