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

Bama Fan#2

May 12th, 2011
2:57 am

It is simple as it sounds play DEFENSE LIKE IT IS A SIN to give up a touchdown
and have a powerful running attack with a good receiver and a game manager at
qb AKA Alabama 2009 NC’S!!!

LLCoolN

May 12th, 2011
7:48 am

Bill,

The guy who needs to step up now is Aaron Murray, not the defense. Murray needs to tweak a few areas: 3rd down, 1st/4th quarters, red zone, record against winning teams, productivity against winning teams, etc.

irondawg

May 12th, 2011
7:57 am

If Richt has another year like last, or something close than it will be his last as head coach. I like Richt. I think he is a good coach. I am pulling for him. Besides not winning a National Championship, he has been a better coach than Dooley. Richt has had to deal with so much more in the modern era than Dooley. Yes, Dooley was a decent coach. I think Erk was the backbone or heart of those teams. Go back and look at Dooley’ record over the years. It is good, but not great. Lots of ties and Loses. Then take at the Walker years and the 83 team and Dooley just an average coach in the 80s. Dooley knew what he was doing when he retired. UGA must play better defense this year. Real newsflash. Yes, they must get more production from their offense not just rushing but passing. But yes, Richt must win and win with 9 victory I would think to keep his ga or a least beat fl, tenn, and auburn, and tech. I will say this I would not hire Vince Dooley to replace him. I am real cautious of any man that plays with flowers.

Jacket Man

May 12th, 2011
9:18 am

Those baseballers over in Athens can kiss an NCAA bid goodbye!!!! See ya!

schmeckdawg

May 12th, 2011
9:18 am

@ Bama Fan #2

It really is that simple. Who ever blocks and tackles the best usually wins!

vadawg

May 12th, 2011
9:53 am

championships are won in the trenches…………………Go DAWGS

schmeckdawg

May 12th, 2011
9:57 am

@vadawg

You are 1,000% correct!!!!!!!!

schmeckdawg

May 12th, 2011
10:05 am

For all of those concerned about Caleb’s academic standing for this coming season, it sounds from CMR’s comments from his Bulldog Club meeting in Greenville, SC the other night that Caleb is okay. He did say he wants him to lose a little weight so that he can maximize his speed. It sounds like the jury is still out on Harmon. CMR says he will know about everyone this coming Monday!

Go DAWGS!!!!!!!!

irondawg

May 12th, 2011
10:29 am

are kidding? he knows their grades, what about the new s and c and nutrition program?

Remembering...

May 12th, 2011
11:34 am

There were a lot of things for the dawgs to celebrate last year. Let’s see…

1. A drunken, whoring athletic director with red panties in his lap.

2. Fourteen players arrested. And 41% of UGA football players are arrested during their time at UGA.

3. A player suspended for violating NCAA rules.

4. Winning the Fulmer Cup for the most players arrested.

5. Winning the title of #1 party school (i.e., the most drunken student body in the USA).

6. A sleazy assistant coach who razzes opposing players, unethical coaching conduct in violation of NCAA rules.

7. A super sleazy head coach who thinks he’s a saint, but recruits thug wannabes, gangbangers, and illiterate morons.

8. A 6-7 record despite having a team full of 4- and 5-star recruits.

That’s really something to be proud of!

schmeckdawg

May 12th, 2011
11:38 am

@irondawg

Please don’t shoot the messenger!

TROJAN

May 12th, 2011
11:59 am

Draft Analyst: Welcome to the blog. I hope you enjoyed your first visit.

TROJAN

May 12th, 2011
12:00 pm

Remembering: Can you remember your last date? How long have you been in your mothers basement?

Lotus Blossom

May 12th, 2011
12:40 pm

喇叭狗完全吸。

BYRDDAWG

May 12th, 2011
2:07 pm

remembering when your momma spanked you last night for smokin her last cig & drinkin her last beer…..You’re just a punk hidin behind a small screen!

Buster

May 12th, 2011
2:52 pm

Running back not important?

Not in the SEC.

You can’t win the SEC this era without a great running game.

Last 4 SEC Champions, all ran it well, as in 215 yards+ a game average.

Richt’s around 125 a game.

LogicalUS

May 12th, 2011
3:30 pm

About face……

Opps.,it as going to be the new and improved 90s Nebraska like running game which this year was gong to be the 2011 reason why UGA won the MNC, the loss of ever semblance of that has lead to the pipedream that now it is going to be the mythical UGA defense. Good luck with that.

Get rid of these UGA tards and hire some journalist…This is the UGA defense which just got bulldozed for 400 yds by a injury riddled GaTech team with a cornerback at QB and had to rely on a choke job by a FG kicker to escape?

Did you watch the Spring game? Slow small LBs and white CB are not going to shut anyone down. That Lattimore kid at SC outweighs the entire UGA LB corp and is 3 steps faster. It might look impressive against the 5-4 160lb UGA runningbacks which they were playing against but not against actual SEC level talent.

It Ain't Rocket Science

May 12th, 2011
5:44 pm

Jacketman,

Can you tell me what in blue blazes baseball has to do with this blog. I realize you tech. sports fans must try to boost your self esteem up anyway you can, so I guess Georgia’s baseball team losing does it for you. Now if you really want to boost your self esteem, how about your football team doing a little better than 1 out of 10 against the DAWGS in football. I realize this is also out of context for this article, but at least we would then be talking about the right sport.

Big Harry

May 12th, 2011
6:55 pm

Its ALWAYS been about Defense…anyone ever tells you otherwise doesn’t know if their butt is punched or drilled.

I don’t think fans are as much concerned how balanced anything is so long as our offense is scoring TDs and our defense is stopping the other teams’ offense.

The Really Painful Truth

May 12th, 2011
6:57 pm

You Dawg fans who keep repeating Tech-Georgia scores like a mantra enjoy yourselves all you want. The thing is… Tech alumni and fans have lives that don’t depend entirely on what a bunch of kids does on Saturday afternoons. College sports are fun to follow, but the biggest reason for going to college is to get an education.

UGA fans don’t seem to care about anything but football, and they don’t care if their players are enrolled in silly majors that no parents who are paying the bills would send their kids to UGA for. The very few football and basketball players who graduate have no job opportunities and end up unemployed or working in menial jobs that hardly require a college degree.

Georgia Tech is a real school with serious academic standards, and that includes scholarshipped athletes. UGA has a long history of being a party school, where parents send their kids for an easy degree, even if the degree itself is practically worthless.

Jan Kemp exposed the crap going on at UGA with athletes being enrolled in courses a ten-year-old kid could pass. That was almost three decades ago, and nothing has changed. If anything, the abuses are more blatant today. Way too many illiterate morons are being recruited, and the very high arrest rate shows clearly that Richt does not care if his players have any morals or self-discipline.

The bottom line is that most Tech fans have very good jobs and productive lives that don’t depend on Tech’s football record for their happiness in life. It would be great to beat UGA more often, but when you put scholar-athletes up against dummy-athletes, it’s usually no contest.

It’s pretty pathetic to see UGA fans who typically have never been within miles of a college classroom and who live or die with UGA’s weekly results on the football field.

So keep on posting scores all you want, especially since you’re home with plenty of time on your hands. I wish you well, maybe you’ll get lucky and get your old job back at Waffle House or the sawmill before your unemployment checks stop coming.

emorydawg

May 12th, 2011
10:15 pm

Don’t usually post but I had to say something to “The Really whatever the heck you are” I graduated from UGA before going on to Emory. Both educations were of the highest calibre. So, take your “real” school and shove it. I am sick and tired of hearing the argument that Tech is so much more superior to UGA. Ask my bank account, versus yours, which education is better. JERK.

Ace

May 12th, 2011
11:46 pm

UGA has about 3 more years on the skids. Not very good.

UGA FRIEND

May 13th, 2011
2:46 am

Based on the number of negative comments, UGA fans mostly just want to bash CMR. Why? Except for 2010, he has winning record every year and averaged 10 wins per season. Why so much ill will toward a coach with this record?

7576DAWG

May 13th, 2011
5:35 am

UGA Friend
The fans that are wanting CMR replaced are mainly young, impulsive , and letting their mouth get ahead of their brain.
I have been critical of some of the choices that CMR has made in the last 3 years like keeping Willie Martinez at least 2 years too long because of friendship and I still criticize him for keeping Bobo as offensive coordinator when everyone that watches the games know that Bobo seems to be completely lost at times and the more pressure the more lost he seems to become. He was promoted probably 10 years too soon and has not progressed very much as a coordinator.
Having said that I have not wanted CMR replaced. I think he is a great coach and I am proud that he is at Georgia but he has a stubborn way about him that hurts him to have the best program possible at Georgia. I am very confident that McGarity will remedy OUR problem but it could take a few years. Right now I am satisfied with just sitting back and watch the results of the changes that McGarity has already made and the changes to come if needed.
Everybody better be more concerned with keeping Grantham after this year.

It Ain't Rocket Science

May 13th, 2011
6:54 am

Everybody seems to expect continuos success without ever seeing a couple of down years. CMR has done a good job and I believe he will do it this year. I am a little worried about the running back situation but I still think UGA will be Ok. By the way, CMR is not responsible for one running back not wanting to be a team player and work on the field and off (Ealey), nor can he take the test for courses for his players if they decide not to study.(guess who that might be). I still feel we have a couple of kids that can step up and tote the ball, and I feel confident that the defense is vastly improved from last year. I beleive UGA has the players in place to survive the minor bumps in the road that have presented themselves, and they have a favorable schedule, although the first two games are pretty tough.

GO DAWGS

Saban

May 13th, 2011
8:07 am

DAwgs are p;itiful.

King can`t spell. Crowell can`t read. Richt can`t coach.

Boise State 87 Dawgs 4

It Ain't Rocket Science

May 13th, 2011
9:11 am

And Saban can’t think or write an intelligent sentence on a blog, without saying something stupid.

Nelson

May 13th, 2011
10:02 am

Bill,

Really liked your article 2months ago when you said UGA nneded Ealey really bad.

Looks like you’ve done a 180.

Why the sudden change?

http://blogs.ajc.com/junkyard-blawg/2011/03/01/washaun-ealey-still-has-a-big-role-to-play-for-the-dogs/

edumacated

May 13th, 2011
10:25 am

I’m still waiting on Georgia to run a trick play. How long has it been since a fake punt or field goal? How about a misdirection on a kick return? Maybe we shouldn’t always fair catch punts inside the 20. Perhaps always defering possession until the second half is a bad idea (see Auburn). Maybe you could put an offensive wrinkle or two in the weekly gameplan? I think 2 million a year should be worth seeing something new.
How about ANYTHING innovative from Mr. Football expert Richt, because good coaches take him to school every Saturday lately.

It Ain't Rocket Science

May 13th, 2011
3:54 pm

Good catch there Nelson. You see a lot of this from AJC, since it appears that a lot of their articles are geared towards allowing a bunch of negative posters on them, to generate website hits.

It Ain't Rocket Science

May 14th, 2011
11:11 am

Eight pages is enough. It has now deteriorated into a B S blog once again. See you on the next one.