Through their first four contests, the Georgia Bulldogs are averaging 165 yards per game on the ground, which is ranked eighth in the SEC. The Bulldogs are only averaging 3.96 yards per attempt as a team, which is pretty disappointing for a program that calls themselves ‘Running Back U.’ For now, those numbers aren’t impressive, but Georgia does hope to return to their old ways of running the ball under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken in the second half of the season, and it has to start against Kentucky on Saturday.
Fifth-year head coach Kirby Smart offered up his opinion on Monday about Georgia’s rushing attack.
“I feel like we’ve got the ability to run the ball well,” said head coach Kirby Smart during Monday’s afternoon presser. “We probably had our poorest performance we had, in terms of rushing the ball, [in] the Arkansas game. We’ve come a long way since then.”
In the season opener against Arkansas, the Bulldogs scampered for 121 yards in their 37-10 victory. The next week against Auburn, Georgia netted an impressive 202 yards on the ground followed by 193 yards against Tennessee. The Bulldogs then only ran for 145 yards against Alabama in their 41-24 loss on the road.
In fact, as Smart said, Georgia has improved and “come a long way” since the Arkansas game, but those numbers aren’t consistent in comparing them to year’s past. It’s a little concerning to see that the Bulldogs have yet to average at least five yards carry as a team. It’s evident that this is a pass-first to open up the run offense, but that didn’t seem to be the case against Alabama. Through Georgia’s first five games last year, the team ran for 323, 269 268,152 and 238 yards and averaged over five yards per attempt except for one matchup.
The Bulldogs have a stable of talented running backs, but it just doesn’t seem like the unit is near as impressive as those in recent years. They are led by redshirt sophomore Zamir White, who has racked up 266 yards on 64 carries (4.16 ypc), but he hasn’t been quite like former Bulldog and current Detroit Lion D’Andre Swift. Last season, Swift averaged 6.21 yards per carry.
Still, Smart has praised White for his ability to lead the team after overcoming two ACL injuries that plagued him earlier on in his Georgia career.
“I think Zamir has been very productive, he’s better conditioned,” Smart said. “We are fortunate we were able to play a lot of backs, so he doesn’t get probably as many carries, but that never seems to frustrate him. He does a really good job of knowing his role and helping our team.”
Georgia tight end John FitzPatrick agrees with Smart and feels like the team is running the ball.
“You could look at it to where [the rushing game is] not averaging the same clip as we usually do,” said FitzPatrick, who added that there was more focus on the tight ends in the run game during the open week. “But there’s also these explosive plays that we’ve done well with. So, there’s negatives, but there’s also positives.”
An explosive running play is when a team rushes for 12 yards or more, in which the Bulldogs have nine of those. White leads the team with four, followed by sophomore Kenny McIntosh with two. Then, freshman Kendall Milton, junior James Cook and freshman receiver Jermaine Burton all have one, respectively.
“I feel the run game is there,” said White, when asked about Georgia’s rushing attack. “I mean, there’s some stuff we need to pick up, but we’re going to be all right. The offense just needs to come together more—and lock in. That’s it.”
That’s exactly what the offense needs to do: they need to come together.
McIntosh only has 92 yards on 16 carries through four games, but note that he missed most of the Alabama game after suffering an injury earlier on in the contest. McIntosh certainly deserves more carries after his impressive performances this season while playing limited snaps. McIntosh has 134 yards on 21 attempts followed by Cook with 87 yards on 17 attempts. Cook missed significant time against Tennessee but looked completely healthy against Alabama as he caught an 80-yard plus touchdown from quarterback Stetson Bennett in the first half.
A lot of fans want to see Milton in a more formidable role against Kentucky.
“Just keep going. Just keep on working hard, practicing hard. Just keep doing you and do what you do,” White said about Milton. “Kendall’s a great kid and a smart kid. Me, Cook, Kenny, we love him to death.”
McIntosh has shown a lot of versatility this season, but is still just a freshman and is learning to get adjusted to the collegiate level.
“He makes really good cuts, has good vision,” Smart said of the freshman. “Every opportunity he has gotten he’s taken advantage of it and grown with it.”
McIntosh is the dark horse of the group and might be the most talented tailback in the group. Although, he’s currently still battling that injury that occurred against the Crimson Tide.
“We’re hopeful on Kenny that he will be able to play..” Smart said earlier this week. “He was able to practice in a limited amount with his foot sprained. He was able to go in the Alabama game, and we certainly are thankful for that. We gave him some time off in the off week and recover. His biggest focus was to maintain his cardio.”
For Georgia to run the ball well against Kentucky, they will have to do so as a team. The Wildcats are only allowing only 3.49 yards per rush this season, which is fourth-best in the SEC. None of Kentucky’s opponents have averaged over 4.3 yards per carry. The Bulldogs will hope to do so against a big, physical Kentucky front seven.
“We feel like Coach Monken is doing a great job here,” White said. “We feel good about the running game—and the outbreak game is coming soon. We’re going to get it.”