ATHENS -- As an ice cream flavor, vanilla is good. As a description of a football offense, it is not. It is an insult. And it is one often levied at the Georgia offense.
This week is when the word will come up again. The contrast with Missouri and its spread offense is a stark one. And statistically, Missouris offensive strategy has been more successful lately.
But the Bulldogs defend their system, a pro-style system head coach Mark Richt has been using since the early 1990s. The coaches say they believe in the system. The players say its not as boring as perceived.
I wouldnt say its vanilla, said Michael Bennett, a sophomore receiver for Georgia. If you execute, you can do whatever you want with it. If we execute like we know how to do, we can make a vanilla offense look rainbow.
Its not that Georgia doesnt pass the ball very much. Quarterback Aaron Murray has set passing records the past two seasons.
But the criticism of Georgias offense, mainly by fans but also by some in the media, is that the pass plays arent exciting enough. The critics say the Bulldogs offense is too predictable.
Mike Bobo, who has served as the main play-caller since late in the 2006 season, shoulders most of the criticism. The offensive coordinator and former Georgia quarterback shrugs it off.
Its the profession I chose, Bobo said. Nobody made me go into coaching, its what I wanted to do. My dad warned me about it. But I still wanted to do it. I love doing it.
Richt, who called plays before handing the reins to Bobo, has constantly professed his support for Bobo: The nature of the offensive coordinator position is to get criticized.
And Richt also supports his system, which worked for him when he was the offensive coordinator at Florida State, winning 10 or more games a year in the 1990s.
We just believe in what we do, Richt said. Ive coached offensive football long enough to know that whatever you do, you execute it well then youre going to move the ball and youre going to score points. So youve gotta do what you believe in, and youve gotta do what you think best suits your personnel. Thats really the main reason we do it that way.
The philosophical contrast between Missouri and Georgia is evident on the depth charts: They each list five offensive linemen, a quarterback and a tailback. But for the other four spots, Georgia has a fullback, tight end and two receivers.
Missouri lists four receivers.
Still, Missouri manages to run the ball a lot, as Richt acknowledges. Spreading receivers around causes defenders to be further away when a run play goes up the middle.
I dont know if its an illusion or not that they want to throw it a lot, Richt said. But when people are spread out like that, a normal fan thinks theyre gonna throw it every down. But the reality is they run it quite a bit from there. Because they spread it around all over the field, theres less bodies around to make a tackle, quite frankly.
In each of the past five seasons, Missouri has had a higher-ranked offense than Georgia. That stat comes with two caveats: First, by its nature, the spread offense will put up more yards, along with the risk of more turnovers, and, second, Georgia has been facing more high-caliber defenses in the SEC.
Now Missouri can test that spread offense -- currently the only one of its kind in the SEC -- against the best.
As for Georgia, Bennett said it was a misnomer to say the Bulldogs have been using Richts same playbook from 1993.
It evolves, for sure, Bennett said. Im sure the plays that Coach Richt was calling at Florida State are a little different now, after he brought that offense over. But every week we gameplan, we have new plays we put it. Its complex stuff, whether people see it or not. Its hard to know, its a lot of stuff, a lot of routes, a lot of route concepts. Its a lot more rainbow than you think.
Richt does not claim to have a schematic advantage, a term proudly proclaimed a few years ago by then-Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis.
I wouldnt say theres necessarily an advantage to how we do things. I think the bottom line is we want to, again, execute what we do, Richt said. Its sound, fundamental football. And I think the more that people spread the field, I think the less theyre able to handle the power-running game (that) some people will bring.
Sometimes, when everybody works in that direction, they sometimes forget how to defend some hard-nosed football. We believe in that, but we get some three- and four-wide receiver sets. We do a lot of everything, but the bottom line is we still believe in having a fullback in the game and running the ball. And the play-action pass that comes with it.
The proliferation of spread offenses might have made Georgias approach seem antiquated. Even Bennett admitted that it would have been cool to go somewhere where its a spread.
But in the next breath he points out that Georgia passes it a lot, as much as 30 times a game.
The point, hammered home by Georgia players and coaches: Its not the play-calling, its not the system.
If you execute, youre gonna get a lot of yards, a lot of points, Bennett said. So whatever works.