UGA Football

Smart states his case for more running backs to join UGA’s backfield

Georgia running backs Sony Michel (1) and Nick Chubb (27).
Georgia running backs Sony Michel (1) and Nick Chubb (27). Georgia Sports Communications

Georgia will lose its top two running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, after this season. But even so, the Bulldogs will be in great shape at the position moving forward with D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien all expected to return.

Georgia also has secured a commitment from five-star running back Zamir White (Laurinburg, North Carolina), who is considered the top player at the position in the class of 2018. In the same recruiting class, four-star running back James Cook (Miami) is giving the Bulldogs a strong look.

With that kind of depth at running back, how exactly does head coach Kirby Smart pitch recruits that there is a spot for them on the roster to earn playing time?

“You just turn on the tape of the last game and say, ‘Do you want to be one of those guys?’ ” Smart said. “Or do you want to one of the guys that’s pass (protecting) for everybody else in the country. They’re throwing there. And they say, ‘I want to be one of those guys and carry the ball.’ ”

Smart then brought up the point that Georgia carried the ball quite a bit in a win over Vanderbilt, possibly 30 times to his recollection.

A reporter noted the number was closer to 50 — with the carry total actually being 54.

“Fifty? Good gosh,” Smart said. “That’s a lot of carries. So that helps.”

In fact, the Bulldogs have combined for more than 50 carries in three of their games as they also achieved this feat against Samford (54 carries) and Tennessee (55).

Georgia has been running the ball at a high clip this season, ranking 11th in the nation at 268.3 yards per game. The Bulldogs’ offensive line has a great job opening holes for the runners to burst through.

And with five capable backs, the carries have been distributed to where one back hasn’t exclusively shouldered a sizable percentage of the workload.

Chubb has carried the ball 91 times for 618 yards, which is only 31 percent of the 292 total carries the Bulldogs have had. Michel has totaled 59 carries for 412, which comes out to 20 percent. Herrien has 39 carries (13 percent) for 138 yards, Swift has 36 carries (12 percent) for 272 yards and Holyfield has 22 carries (eight percent) for 130 yards.

Georgia is also the only Power 5 conference program to have five players record 125 yards or more at this point of the season.

Having as many capable running backs who Georgia has kept fresh has allowed for the ground game to become stronger as the game goes on.

“You’ll see it on film, they go in and in the first quarter, they’re ready to go after it, and towards the fourth quarter, (the defense is) like ‘I don’t know if I want to hit these guys anymore,’ ” tight end Jeb Blazevich said. “And that’s a testament to what they do, and that’s something we need to keep up, and not expect, but try to make happen every week.”

With the Georgia rushing attack going the way it has, the passing game, which has been able to strike when called upon, ranks last in the SEC at 145.7 yards per game. Nationally, that puts the Bulldogs at 119th. But that stat is deceiving since Georgia’s combined quarterback rating is 34th at 149.9.

At some point, Georgia will have to throw the ball a little more to win games.

But as long as the rushing attack remains as strong as it has, there is no need to force the issue with the pass.

“We really haven’t had to pass the ball a lot because our line is playing physical,” tight end Isaac Nauta said. “We’ve got Sony, Nick, D’Andre and Elijah, and those guys, running the ball like crazy.”