UGA Football

Georgia tweaks rushing approach, sees progress

Sony Michel carries the ball during Georgia’s game against Tennessee.
Sony Michel carries the ball during Georgia’s game against Tennessee. Georgia Sports Communications

Two weeks ago, after a struggling performance rushing the ball against Missouri, Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney began to implement some shotgun runs with the offense spread out on between the 20-yard-lines.

Georgia was having a hard time running the ball out of traditional pro-style sets. The linemen and tight ends weren’t able to move men off the line of scrimmage and teams stacked the box to prevent the runners from finding any space.

So Chaney adjusted accordingly.

While Georgia didn’t run out of the shotgun against Mississippi as much, it did against Tennessee last week. Georgia ran for 181 yards and was able to churn out runs to put itself in third-and-short situations throughout the game.

The reason the running game worked in this capacity is that the offensive sets moved defenders crashing the box to the perimeter. By splitting two receivers wide and putting one in the slot, it forced Tennessee to use five defensive backs to defend the passing game — three corners and two safeties.

Sometimes, the nickel defender or a safety would crash down. But even then, it meant six or seven defenders were in the box as opposed to the eight or nine Georgia was facing in previous weeks.

“If you can’t be as physical as you want to be, then sometimes you have to loosen up,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “I think that helped, from that perspective. Every week, there may be a different game plan. It’s going to depend on what gives us the best chance to be successful against that defense.”

Running back Sony Michel had 91 yards and a touchdown in the 34-31 loss to Tennessee, and did a lot of damage on the ground by allowing blocks to set up before running through them. Since rushing lanes weren’t crowded with defenders, Michel was able to find more room to run through behind an offensive line that has shown progress with its run blocking over the past two weeks.

Michel admitted that he knew it might be challenging to run the ball early in the season. After all, Georgia did break in two new starters up front and moved Greg Pyke from right guard to right tackle.

“We knew going into the year it was going to be a little bit shaky at times, but we just had to be patient and realize that the lanes would eventually start opening up,” Michel said. “We just knew we couldn’t panic, and we just had to keep attacking.”

Running out of the shotgun has also helped freshman quarterback Jacob Eason when it comes to reading the defense and adjusting any calls.

“It gives Eason — he’s a young, 18-year old quarterback back there — a chance to read the defense,” Pyke said. “And we can help him out with the calls.”

Georgia’s offensive line, and overall rushing attack, should have an advantage against South Carolina, which is allowing teams to run for 202 yards per game. Texas A&M totaled 216 yards on the ground a week ago, which actually followed a 216 rushing yards performance from Kentucky.

“Coach had been preaching the whole week about being physical,” left guard Isaiah Wynn said. “We had a great week of practice, took it to the field and it translated. We plan on doing the same thing this week, and so far, we’ve had a great week of practice.”

A decision regarding the Georgia-South Carolina game is likely to be made Thursday, according to a news release Wednesday from Georgia.