ATHENS -- It would seem to run against Georgias formula for success this season: the offense scoring early and often. And yet Mike Bobo, the man calling the shots for the offense, has a constant message: Its OK if you have to punt.
I try to reiterate that all the time, said Bobo, Georgias offensive coordinator. Theres nothing wrong with playing field position. We dont like to punt, we want to score points, but weve got to execute.
Lets be clear: Thats not Bobo trying to dampen expectations for his offense, which returns 10 starters after leading the nation in yards per play and setting numerous school records.
No, thats Bobo trying to tell his offense it doesnt have to score every possession in order to win. Even if at times it might seem that way.
Georgias defense is young and inexperienced, and the secondary is riddled with injuries heading into the opener against Clemsons prolific offense. So, not surprisingly, Las Vegas has set the over-under (total number of points) on the game at 72, according to www.vegasinsider.com.
And that seems low.
So does Georgias offense have all the pressure this year, and does it need to carry the team?
Youve gotta look at it a little bit from the big brother aspect now, senior tight end Arthur Lynch said. I think our offense leaned a lot on our defense last year. The Missouri game, we couldnt get anything going the first quarter and a half. The defense was stepping up. The last two years in the Florida game.
Said junior receiver Malcolm Mitchell, I dont think theres pressure. I just think we know what we need to do. I think our defense will be fine. But in order to win games, youve gotta be able to score. In order to win games, youve gotta stop them from scoring. So it goes hand-in-hand.
But even if the defense struggles, the feeling is that the offense doesnt necessarily need to be scoring in order to help. There is the time-of-possession factor, which will not only provide time to rest and regroup, but mitigate the number of possessions.
We help the defense out by holding the football, junior center David Andrews said. I know they appreciate when we go out and have an eight or 10-play-plus drive. They can get fresh, go over stuff.
The reason Georgia can feel optimistic about that is that its not one-dimensional.
Quarterback Aaron Murray and tailback Todd Gurley were both preseason first-team all-SEC picks in a vote of conference coaches. Last year, Murray passed for 3,983 yards and 36 touchdowns, and Gurley and fellow tailback Keith Marshall ran for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns.
In other words, Georgia isnt a pass-happy offense that can easily be rendered ineffective.
At the end of the day, weve got to do whats gonna help our team win, Bobo said. Sometimes it can be moving and getting points. And if its throwing it all over the place to get points that day, then thats what weve gotta do. But weve got to be balanced going into every game.
Georgias offense also seems to be set up well to do that because of how much the playbook has expanded.
What was for so long a normal pro-style offense has since added spread formations and the no-huddle. So the team can go four- or five-wide receivers, or revert back to the simple I-formation with a fullback and tight end, and do so in the same series.
Thats where the experience of the players the past couple years provides flexibility. Murray and his receivers have built up a rapport during the past several years, and, led by junior Malcolm Mitchell, there is a quick-strike ability. But Gurley and Marshall can also lead a grind-it-out approach.
With the fact we have (Gurley) and (Marshall) back there for another year and we know what we have in them, we can run the ball hopefully at will, Lynch said. Well be a very balanced offense, which in turn might make for longer drives, it might not.
Still, despite having shown the offense can carry the team, Bobo has been driving home the point that it doesnt need to play that way. It would lead to pressing, a sense of disappointment every time a drive doesnt end with points, all of which is counter-productive.
Perhaps Georgias young defense will come through this year. In the meantime, Bobo hopes that his offense is experienced enough that a bad series, or even a turnover, is something they will quickly forget.
A team can win a 52-45 shootout, to pick a random score. But first, the team has to score those 52 points.
Theres gonna be pressure, Bobo said. Theres pressure on every offense and every team in this league. And theres pressure on every quarterback, theres pressure on our quarterback. But, the bottom line is, hes gotta handle his business. We believe in him, his teammates believe in him, and I think well play well.