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Georgia Returned to Its Running Back U Roots Versus Auburn

Daijun Edwards ran the dang ball. Credit: Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics

Through some confluence of design, circumstance and happenstance in the early going of this season, Georgia transformed from the ground-and-pound, run-happy team that’s been its identity all our lives into a pass-first, modernized offense we’ve been clamoring for the last decade.

Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. It wasn’t until we couldn’t run the damn ball that I missed running the damn ball.

Through the first four games, a superior ground game didn’t seem necessary. We had fully evolved into the Todd Monken offense. Stetson Bennett IV passed for 1,224 yards and five touchdowns with a 74% completion rate through the first four games. But the illusion that we could win with a pass-heavy offense that wasn’t backed by a solid ground game faded in the squeaker of a win against Missouri. We tried to win it through the air, but Bennett completed 24 of 43 passes in that game and couldn’t find a rhythm. It wasn’t until tailbacks Kenny McIntosh, Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton got going—a combined 107 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter—that the Dawgs escaped an upset.

There seemed to be a concerted effort from Monken and Kirby Smart to move toward a more pass-heavy offense early in the season. Not only did Georgia have more passing yards than rushing yards in each of its first five games, but it also had more pass attempts than rushes in three of its five games. Last season, it only had two games with more pass attempts than rushes, one of which was the SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama, when we were playing from behind. In total, this season Georgia has passed 221 times to 208 rushes. Compare that to 407 pass attempts and 545 rushes all last season. It’s a stark departure from what’s traditionally expected of a Georgia offense.

I’ll be the first to say I’ve enjoyed opening up the passing game, especially in those first three games. But it did feel like there was something missing. This is Georgia we’re talking about, after all. This is RBU, where the standard isn’t that we have a great tailback every season, it’s that we have two. Yes, the over-reliance on the run game has been frustrating over the last few years, but I still want to see a toss sweep, by God. I want to see an outside zone taken to the house, the same as I saw Nick Chubb, Todd Gurley, Sony Michel, Garrison Hearst and That Guy Who Has Secret Kids take it to the house in years past. I want Georgia football.

So when Auburn came to Athens for its annual showdown with the Bulldogs, it seemed like there was a dictum decreed—we’re playing Georgia football and running the damn ball. Against the Tigers, the Dawgs rushed for 292 yards and six touchdowns on 7.5 yards per carry. Edwards did the bulk of the work with 12 carries for 83 yards and three touchdowns, furthering his position as the tailback-iest of our tailbacks. But the surprise of the day was freshman Branson Robinson, the spitting image of Chubb when he totes the ball, who rattled off a game-high and season-high 98 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries while playing in place of the injured Milton. Suffice it to say, he’s earned himself more playing time down the stretch. Even Bennett got in on the action. The super senior dashed for a 64-yard touchdown run on a designed quarterback draw to begin the fourth quarter.

The improvement and focus on the ground also helped correct the Dawgs’ biggest issue coming out of Mizzou: red-zone scoring. Georgia settled for field goals in the red zone thrice against Missouri. Against Auburn, the Bulldogs were five for five scoring touchdowns from the red zone, all of which came on the ground.

The modernization of Georgia’s offense and more of a focus on passing downfield is still a necessary next step in the evolution of the program. I expect as the receiving corps gets healthier and downfield threats such as AD Mitchell and Arian Smith return to more regular action, we’ll see the offense once again shade toward passing the ball more often. But the last five quarters have shown that when we absolutely need to run the damn ball, we can, and we will.