Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post CFN preview – part 1

Friday June 9, 2006

CFN has their Georgia preview up (written by Pete Fiutak), and of course the message boards are all over it. It’s not a bad read actually. There are a few things I’d take issue with, but many of them come from being waaaaaaaay too familiar with the team. For someone at the 30,000-foot level, he’s got it more or less right.

I appreciate that he remembers the rebuilding challenge that Richt had in the 2003 season. At some positions, the issues in 2003 were even more severe than they are now. No one can deny that Georgia is turning to some inexperienced players to fill needs, but at least there are talented players we expect to step in there. In other words, I don’t think any of these positional situations are as dire as the running backs in 2003. I’m also glad to see the national recognition starting for Quentin Moses.

One opinion he has that I question is a common one, even among our own fans. We talked about this on the DawgVent the other day in fact. It’s the notion that the three running backs “have to carry the load” this year. It’s easy to forget in hindsight, but that was the line last preseason too. It’s actually a testament to the transformation of DJ Shockley over the past year. At this point a year ago, Shockley was seen as a talented guy who had shown some flashes but was still shaky and had never shown enough consistancy to make people think he’d be anything but a dropoff (however slight) from David Greene. While Shockley got adjusted to the starting role, the trio of young backs were going to have to be the strength of the offense.

Never happened. Oh, of course the backs were a key part of the offense last year (though, as Fiutak points out, not as productive as you might think), but there was no question that this was DJ Shockley’s team from the season opener. We got a Georgia offense that was similar in scheme and flow to the 2003 and 2004 units (with the occasional Shockley run of course).

I think we’ll see more of the same in 2006. Richt’s not afraid to use a good tailback – see the explosion of Verron Haynes at the end of 2001 or the 1,300+ yards of Musa Smith in 2002. But until we see otherwise, he just doesn’t seem to trust this current group of backs to be the focus of his offense. Will that change now that they are upperclassmen? I hope so. It would make life much easier for a new quarterback. Until they show otherwise though, I expect that the new quarterback will have a much larger role in the offense sooner than many seem to think. For that reason, I hope that we settle on someone before the season starts and get him adjusted to that role as soon as possible. It might also make the receivers and the ability of Mohamed Massaquoi to become a serious playmaker much more of an issue than this preview indicates.

I say “trust” above with Richt and the running game, but it might be something else. With one clear established tailback, you know whom you want in the game. You have almost no choice about playing time. With the three capable tailbacks not really separating themselves, it’s more difficult to push the right button. There were several examples last season. In the Florida game, Danny Ware had been on a tear, and the Dawgs were moving. We put in Thomas Brown who lost eight yards on the next play, and a promising drive was over. In the Tech game, Kregg Lumpkin was playing well early and had some nice runs on the first scoring drive, but he disappeared in the second half.

My point isn’t to second-guess Richt or criticize the backs. But the trio makes the decisions more difficult. If you have Garrison Hearst or even the senior Musa Smith, the decision is made for you. Run him, run him some more, and take him out of the game only if necessary. Substituting Brown for Ware against Florida might seem like a reasonable case of interchangable fresh legs perfectly suited for the three tailback rotation, but put another way, Musa Smith or Verron Haynes probably don’t come out of the game at that point. Lumpkin and Brown seemed to be moving into a class of their own during the spring, and that’s helpful. Fewer options might be bad if the emerging choice is a poor one, but that’s not what’s happening here. One running back emerging as the best option from a good group makes it more likely that the coaches will trust that guy to “carry the load”, and he can become a focus for the offense while a young passing game gets established.

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