ATHENS — You may have noticed Georgia has been tossing the ball around a good bit. And that’s just in the running game.
The Bulldogs this season are utilizing the toss — or lateral — more often when they run the football. And unlike in past years, when that usually meant an outside running play, Georgia is doing it when it intends to carry the ball between the tackles.
That’s no accident. It’s a wrinkle the Bulldogs picked up from LSU, which utilized that tactic to great effect last year.
“It’s basically the old-school power,” Georgia coach Mark Richt explained. “We’ve handed it off over the years; most everybody in the country still hands it off. [But] LSU has been a team that’s tossed it like that and you could see the benefit of it on film when we watched LSU do it.”
Richt said the advantage of it is two-fold. One, it actually utilizes the quarterback as a blocker or even just a shield from back-side pursuit. It’s also “softens up” the linebackers, who normally read the toss as an outside play and simply get out to the perimeter as fast as they can. Now they need to be more careful to mind their inside gaps.
Of course, the down side of it is you’re unable to utilize a play-fake and ball security can be an issue. The Bulldogs fumbled the ball three times this past Saturday against Missouri, including on their very first play from scrimmage when freshman tailback Todd Gurley mishandled a toss from quarterback Aaron Murray.
“I made a mistake,” said Gurley who led the Bulldogs in rushing with 65 yards on 10 carries but lost five on that play. “I just need to look the ball in. I need to to catch the ball next time we’re in that play and get my eyes up.”
Murray was talking this week about “the four-headed monster” Georgia has at the tailback position in Gurley, Ken Malcome, Keith Marshall and Richard Samuel. The Bulldogs have been effective in running the football. They’re averaging 170 yards per game and have scored four touchdowns in two games. But that’s seventh among SEC teams and they’re sixth in yards per carry (4.6). So there is much room for improvement.
“We have to get better,” Richt said. “We missed some opportunities this last game maybe more than game one as far as hitting it in the right spot. We missed some good blocking more than a couple of times and it wasn’t just one guy. I think all of the backs probably a run or two that could have gained some more yards. . . . There were some inside runs that some of the guys missed where it was blocked a little better than where they ran. We need to be more consistent.”
Richt said a lot of it could be blamed on youth in the backfield and on the line. They will improve rapidly the more they play.
“Like I told the staff, we won the game, it was a great victory, it was a good fourth quarter win for us, but we have a lot of room to improve and that’s a good thing,” Richt said. “That’s our job as coaches to keep teaching and training and trying to get us to be consistent in what we do.”
Gurley, the 6-foot-1, 218-pound freshman from North Carolina, is slated to start for the second straight week. He’s currently tied for the SEC lead in scoring at 12 points per game and is fourth in rushing with an 82-5-yard average.
Gurley believes as a group Georgia’s tailbacks have much more to offer because of their depth.
“We’re competitive,” he said. “We take pride in that. Most of the time, teams come out running, so we try to be the ones to set that spark.”
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