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The Dawgs Proved They Can Still Run the Dang Ball Against Arkansas

Zamir White Manballed his way to two touchdowns on Saturday. Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker

I expected a lot of what went down when Georgia played Arkansas last weekend in Athens. I expected Sanford Stadium would be as hype as it’s ever been for a noon kickoff. I expected we’d attempt to establish the run against the Hogs’ six-man defensive backfield. I expected the defense would come out with a fire lit under its ass following a week of the national media talking about how they might not actually be as good as they look. I expected a win.

I did not expect 37-0.

But that’s what happened in the Dawgs’ biggest game of the season to date. Georgia opened the week as an 18.5-point favorite, dropping to 17 closer to game time. It was a spread most in the college football world and betting public thought was absurd, as more than 80% of the money came in on Arkansas. There’s a reason there are a bunch of big casinos out in the desert.

I learned some important lessons during the 37-0 whompin’ of the Hogs. The first and most obvious lesson: The house always wins. The second lesson: There is a time and a place for Manball.

For most of Kirby Smart’s tenure, Georgia has been denigrated for its inability to keep up with the times offensively. And I’m guilty of being one of those doing the denigrating. For the first several years in Athens, the Dawgs became over-reliant on Manball. 

For those unfamiliar with the term, Manball is an offensive strategy in which you dominate the line of scrimmage, let your quarterback manage the game by keeping him out of difficult situations, and run the ball down the opponent’s throat come hell or high water. If you’re still confused, just think of everything Georgia did offensively until last season.

After a handful of high-profile losses over the last few years in which we were simply outscored, it became clear Manball wasn’t tenable, at least not as our only strategy. If you want to win a national championship in this day and age, you eventually have to go to the air and make big plays. Manball got us through the bulk of most of the seasons under Smart. It was that inability to make explosive plays in just a few games that necessitated a change in offensive identity. Hence, hiring Todd Monken to run the offense.

But the circumstances of the Arkansas game gave us every reason to do an about-face and try to Manball our way to victory. JT Daniels sat out the game with a lat strain, and Arkansas’s defense and its six defensive backs are built to prevent explosive passing plays. 

So we ran the ball and ran the ball and ran the ball. And when we were tired of running the ball, we ran the ball some more. As a team, Georgia ran 56 times for 273 yards and three touchdowns. James Cook ended the day as the feature back, with a game-high 87 yards on 12 carries to his name.

It also proved to Georgia’s detractors that we can run the ball when we choose. Georgia’s lack of an established running game through four games this season was something that was latched onto by those looking to find weaknesses in the Georgia juggernaut. How a running back room that goes five-deep with five- and four-stars behind a physical offensive line would ever be construed as a weakness, I don’t know. But then again, I’m not out here looking for reasons Georgia might suck when clearly none exist.

The reliance on Manball to beat Arkansas did mean our passing game took a step back, but that doesn’t worry me at the moment. I’ve seen enough from Monken and Daniels to believe that we can make those explosive plays through the air when the time comes. In this case, playing Manball wasn’t a regression. It was a strategy.

With Florida suffering a loss at Kentucky, its second SEC loss of the season, Georgia has a path to the SEC Championship Game big enough to drive a Mack truck through. We’re about to embark on a two-month-long exercise in sticking the landing. And if you want to keep your money in your pocket, don’t bet against the Dawgs to do it.