Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post 2014 Georgia football preview: Offense

Wednesday August 27, 2014

Georgia got a glimpse of the 2014 offense last November when Aaron Murray had to be carried off the Sanford Stadium turf. Hutson Mason led the Dawgs under center for the final two and a half games of the season. The results were mixed – the Dawgs didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard in those last couple of games. The comeback at Tech was impressive, but the offense by that point – even for those healthy enough to play – was held together with duct tape. After waiting for four seasons, it’s finally time for Mason to lead a fully loaded offense into a season.

We know by now that Mason’s game is a little different from Murray’s. Mason prefers a faster pace, and while we won’t see Georgia’s offense rival Auburn’s or Oregon’s for pace, the Dawgs could push the tempo when it’s to their advantage. Mason is more comfortable with the short to intermediate passes, and it’s no accident that so much preseason focus has been on the H-back position and getting the tailbacks more involved in the passing game. Georgia might not air it out downfield as much, and they’ll rely on Mason to be efficient distributing the ball to a number of capable receiving targets.

Georgia’s had the luxury for a couple of seasons of knowing with certainty not only the starting quarterback but the backup as well. Mason’s promotion leaves an unsettled backup situation with Faton Bauta and Brice Ramsey contending. If you want very vague comparisons of style, think Tebow (Bauta) vs. Stafford (Ramsey). Each brings unique strengths to the position, but both have rough edges to polish. We saw Bauta for a few mop-up snaps late last season while Ramsey redshirted. Hopefully Mason’s health remains good enough that the backup discussion is academic, and we’ll see Ramsey and Bauta sharing snaps late in big wins.

Georgia has a fairly deep receiving corps, but that group is already dealing with injuries. Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are out for an indefinite period of time. Both are returning from season-ending injuries in 2013. Mitchell had another knee issue come up during preseason camp and had his knee scoped. The severity of Scott-Wesley’s injury made his recovery timetable a little longer, and now an ankle injury threatens his return. The biggest thing Georgia will miss from these receivers is a deep threat. Even if Mason does better with the dink-and-dunk approach, it’s still an advantage to have those receivers who can go vertical.

There are still good receiving options available. Seniors Chris Conley and Michael Bennett need no introduction. Reggie Davis, perhaps best known for his 98-yard touchdown reception against North Texas, is expected to step into a much larger role as a third receiver. The second team receivers all have experience. Kenneth Towns is a large, physical walk-on who has made progress since seeing spot duty in 2013. Blake Tibbs, entering his third year in the program, started to see the light come on during preseason camp. It’s do-or-die time for senior JUCO transfer Jonathon Rumph. The 6’5″ Rumph turned heads in the spring of 2013, but a nagging hamstring injury and unfamiliarity with the offense held him back as a junior. If he can avoid injuries and have some early success to build confidence, Rumph has the skills to make a difference. Freshman Shakenneth Williams and converted defensive back Brendan Langley could be called on if needed. Freshman return specialist Isaiah McKenzie, along with Davis, could be looked to as the vertical receivers while Mitchell and Scott-Wesley are out.

The tight end position is a bit of an unknown. The Dawgs lose the popular Arthur Lynch to the NFL. Junior Jay Rome is the heir apparent, but injuries have allowed him to only show glimpses of what to expect. Rome, and occasionally Jordan Davis, will be on the field when Georgia’s offense calls for a traditional tight end. Things get interesting though when Georgia moves the tight end around. One of the big stories of preseason camp was the move of fullback Quayvon Hicks to tight end. More specifically, Hicks has been listed as an H-back. An H-back is a player, usually a tight end, lined up in the backfield, and the position has existed in mainstream football since the 80s. What it means for Georgia is a more determined effort to involve Hicks in the passing game, and we’ll see him (and fellow H-back freshman Jeb Blazevich) in a number of formations. Georgia’s H-backs will still have blocking responsibilities and could even line up as tight ends, but it should tell us something that the coaches, for the first time, used this H-back label for a subset of the tight ends.

Those tight ends will be lined up next to an offensive line that’s a mix of the new and the very familiar. John Theus is in his third year as a starter, but now he’ll be at the important left tackle spot. Senior center David Andrews returns to anchor the line. Kolton Houston now has a full year under his belt since the NCAA lifted his suspension, and he’ll hold down right tackle. The newcomers are at the guard positions. Left guard Brandon Kublanow saw quite a bit of time last season backing up Dallas Lee and will step into that starting role. Greg Pyke at right guard is perhaps the least experienced of Georgia’s linemen, but he’s also the largest listed at 6’6″ and 326 lb and had a strong camp to secure the job. There’s also good talent among the second group. Seniors Danztler and Beard can step in at tackle, and true freshman Isaiah Wynn might have the highest ceiling of the linemen and could push the starters as the year goes on.

That brings us to what should be the strength of the offense – the running backs. Todd Gurley missed three games and chunks of several others last season. He dealt with injuries from the very first game, suffered another injury against LSU, and spent the last half of the season at less than 100% both in terms of health and conditioning. He’s back in top form and has even trimmed down a little. Gurley in top shape is enough, but we can go on. Keith Marshall had just started to come into his own against LSU and Tennessee once Gurley went down. His season-ending injury started a horrible day in Knoxville and left the Dawgs with only true freshmen in the backfield for the rest of October. Marshall is also back and participated in all of preaseason practice.

As if the healthy return of Gurley and Marshall wasn’t enough, Georgia landed two of the nation’s top tailback prospects. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel could start for many teams, but Georgia coaches have the luxury of bringing these freshmen along. Even if the injuries of 2013 don’t repeat themselves, it’s common for teams to feature three or four tailbacks now, so it’s likely we could see one or both of the freshmen right away. Michel might be slightly ahead right now. Let’s also not forget Brendan Douglas, the battering ram who had to step up as a true freshman a year ago. He’ll still have a big job late in games as a punishing back who can put games away. Bruising back A.J. Turman redshirted last season and will fight for playing time. J.J. Green, the other true freshman who was called on last season, has moved to defense. More on him later.

One theme we’re picking up with the running backs this year is increased involvement with the passing game. We saw that even as 2013 wore on. Gurley caught five passes in the first four games before his injury against LSU. After returning against Florida, Gurley caught 32 passes the rest of the season. His 37 receptions were 4th-best on the team behind only Conley, Bennett, and Lynch. His six receiving touchdowns led the entire offense. With a healthy Marshall back and an electrifying newcomer like Michel added to the mix (not to mention – again – an H-back coming out of the backfield), Georgia should have a receiving threat from the backs that has to be accounted for by defenses. This development seems to suit Mason’s skill in the short passing game, so keep an eye on how often Georgia throws to a running back.

The fullback position seemed set with Hicks and Merritt Hall, but that all changed over the past month. Hicks is now a tight end. Hall had to give up football after one too many concussions. The Dawgs only feature a fullback about a quarter of the time, and it might even be less now as they emphasize the H-back. But there’s still a need for the position particularly in short-yardage and goal line “wham” packages. Hicks can step in there when needed, and freshman linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes has moved over to work at fullback. Walk-on Taylor Maxey could see most of the snaps.

With so many players back and the coaching staff intact, you’d expect to see more of the same in terms of playcalling and scheme. But with whispers about tempo and spreading the field with the H-back, it will be interesting to see the evolution of the offense and whether the coaches can get even more out of the unique skills of their players.

Comments are closed.