While Todd Gurley sits, there’s a game (or two, or three…) to play, and the Georgia offense has some practical problems to solve in Gurley’s absence.
Run the damn ball
It’s Nick Chubb’s time. The freshman was almost as much of a part of Georgia’s fourth quarter outburst against Clemson as Gurley was. He reminded us at the end of the Vanderbilt game that he can hit a hole and take off as well as anyone. He’s well-established as a potent set of fresh legs off the bench. Can he bear the load as Georgia’s feature back in an offense that has leaned on its running game?
Chubb isn’t alone. Brendan Douglas will also get carries. Before you dismiss the idea, Douglas ran for 70 yards against Missouri in a similar situation last season. He’s been buried on the depth chart this season with the addition of Chubb and Michel, but if ever there was an opportunity for Douglas to have his moment in the spotlight, this is it. Douglas also had a pivotal fumble just before halftime inside the Missouri 10 yard line last year, and he should relish the chance to have a second crack at playing this team.
Kyle Karempelis is still on the team. The senior walk-on was thrown into action as a freshman in 2011 when injuries struck the Bulldog backfield. He might or might not get carries if Chubb and Douglas can stay fresh, but he’s another option with a little experience who could get in the game.
Georgia’s commitment to the run in this game will be interesting to see. It might be that Georgia is lost on offense without their superstar. Other times players realize that they have to step up without the star around to do it for them. This week will also feature the return of Malcolm Mitchell (and possibly Justin Scott-Wesley). A healthy Mitchell is one of the most dangerous players in the SEC. It’s a lot to ask for a bigger role for the passing game against such a capable defensive line, but any success there will ease the pressure on Chubb and Douglas to do it all.
Something I was getting ready to post before this all went down was Gurley’s role in the passing game. He is, or was, on a pace to catch about 25 passes this year. That’s down quite a bit from his 2013 numbers (37 catches, 441 yards), even accounting for his limited duty last season. He hasn’t caught a touchdown pass this year after notching six in 2013.
Surely some of that has to do with the scaled back role of the passing game in general – not a lot of people are putting up big numbers catching the ball for Georgia in 2014. But we haven’t forgotten about Gurley’s abilities as a receiver, and they could have come in handy this weekend. As Cory Brinson illustrates, Missouri’s formidable pass rush can be taken advantage of in a number of ways. One of those is running right at it as an aggressive pass rush can leave wide running lanes open.
Another way to attack a good pass rush is with screens and quick passes that get rid of the ball before the rush can arrive. Georgia’s offense struggled last year at Auburn as Dee Ford and company abused Georgia’s tackles. The solution was Todd Gurley. Georgia’s tailback caught ten passes and posted nearly as many yards receiving (77) as rushing (79). His presence in the passing game offered a safety valve that helped to slow, if not neutralize, the Auburn pressure and helped to key Georgia’s comeback. I anticipated Georgia’s gameplan using a similar approach against Missouri.
Do the Dawgs have other options in the short passing game? Of course you might have slot receivers like Conley operating underneath using receiver screens where you might have otherwise run a screen to Gurley. I’m not sure about Chubb’s ability as a receiver – remember, he’s still operating with a broken thumb. He can handle the exchange on a run, but snaring a pass in close quarters might be a different story.
Could this be the game in which we see a larger role for the H-back? The position was a big preseason topic, but we haven’t heard much about it since. Jeb Blazevich has emerged as a nice target with seven catches for 139 yards, though much of his production has come at the traditional tight end role in place of Jay Rome. Quayvon Hicks, the other H-back, has only caught one pass all season. With Rome reportedly back from a foot injury, does Georgia move Blazevich and Hicks into spots where they might catch the short passes out of the backfield that would have otherwise gone to Gurley?
The wildcat, or wilddawg, or whatever you want to call it had just started to play a larger role in Georgia’s offense. We saw Sony Michel taking snaps earlier in the season, and Gurley took it to another level after Michel was injured. McKenzie running the sweep added another important element to the offense and kept defenses from overplaying the guy taking the snap. Kentucky showed us another wrinkle of the offense last week when they turned the sweep into a reverse pass for the quarterback.
Without Michel or Gurley, does Georgia abandon the wildcat offense? Do they have anyone else who’s taken the snaps in practice? Chubb seems like a good candidate to absorb the blows on those inside runs, but remember the thumb. The guy taking the snap in the wildcat has to catch the snap on the fly, be able to read and hand off on the sweep, or tuck it away and run. I have no doubts about Chubb’s ability to run the ball when the play calls for him to keep it. The coaches can also simplify the keep/sweep read by making those decisions part of the play call. The key question – one I’m sure some practice time over the past day or so has explored – is whether Chubb can handle the snap and the handoff with an injured thumb.