JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the three games leading up to the South Carolina game, Georgia averaged 301 yards and 5 touchdowns running the football. In the two games since, the Bulldogs have averaged 96 yards and one-half a TD.
The Bulldogs believe the truth that is their 2012 rushing attack lay somewhere in between those two samples. They’re probably not as mighty as they seemed when they were gashing Florida Atlantic for 328 yards on Sept. 15 or as meek as they were eking out 77 yards against Kentucky last week.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be that good every week,” said freshman tailback Keith Marshall, who had 164 yards against Tennessee and leads the backs with a 7 yards per carry average. “This is SEC football, you know. I think teams were just having to respect the run a little more than they were at the beginning of the season. That’s no excuse. I still think we’re capable of doing big things and I think we’ll get back to doing it.”
Fellow freshman tailback Todd Gurley, who once led the SEC in rushing and had five 100-yard games, has managed only 86 the last two games. He’s now sixth in the league at 88.9 yards per game.
The No. 2-ranked Florida Gators’ defense is hardly one against which to expect improvement. They come into Saturday’s game ranked among the nation’s top 10 in rushing defense (10th, 97.29 ypg), total defense (7th, 282 ypg) and scoring defense (12.14 ppg).
Regardless, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said it’s important the Bulldogs stay committed to the run. So he and his staff have worked overtime examining the issues of the last two games with the hope of making the necessary adjustments.
“I think it was a little bit of execution at South Carolina and a little bit of us getting whipped and then getting down and getting away from the running game,” Bobo said. “This past week, I think it was a little bit about what their defense was doing. They made a commitment to stop the run. We knew it would be tough but we thought we could pop a (long) run in there. But we never did and had more success in the air. So, overall, I wasn’t disappointed with the run game because it didn’t do anything to hurt us. It enabled us to open up the passing game and throw for over 400 yards.”
Georgia managed 505 yards offense against Kentucky thanks to quarterback Aaron Murray’s 427-yard passing night. But the Gators are good at stopping that, too. They rank 3rd nationally in pass efficiency defense.
The key for the Bulldogs is to stay patient keep them guessing.
“Against one of the best rush defenses in America, you may run for less yards than you’re averaging and still have a heck of a day running the ball,” coach Mark Richt said. “We definitely don’t want to abort the run by any means. We have to make sure that we run it well enough to the point they have some respect for it.”
Said Bobo: “I think we’re a confident (offense). We believe in ourselves and believe we can execute any time we step on the field. The thing you’ve got to keep preaching is, sometimes the defense is going to stop you. But you can’t get rattled; you can’t worry about it. You’ve got to keep playing and I think we do a great job of that.”
Close to home
Georgia has a dozen players from the state of Florida, but none grew up closer to Georgia-Florida game than John Theus.
The Bulldogs’ freshman right tackle and his older brother, snapper Nathan Theus, graduated from the Bolles School, just around the corner from EverBank Field.
“I’ve always thought it would be cool to be able to play in that stadium that I’ve watched so many games in,” John Theus said this week. “I know the place so well. It’s cool to go back.”
Malcolm Mitchell has played 336 snaps this season: 178 on defense, 103 on special teams and 55 on offense. . . . Georgia is among the top six teams in the nation when it comes to playing freshmen. The Bulldogs had played 13 true freshmen this season, which ranks sixth among FBS teams. Another nine redshirt freshmen have played. . . . Bulldogs and Gators fans were arriving by the thousands on Thursday and were greeted cloudy skies but very warm temperatures. Hurricane Sandy, a category 1 storm in the Caribbean Sea, appears to be turning away Florida. But high winds and unpredictable weather is expect the next two days as it heads to the Atlantic Ocean.