ATHENS, Ga. -- Mike Bobo pinpoints one critical error as the difference between the Georgia offense that steamrolled opponents for the first five games and the one that lost its bite and nearly got shut out in the Bulldogs’ most recent game against South Carolina.
“We’ve got to stay more committed to the run,” said Bobo, Georgia’s offensive coordinator, who later added, “I did a poor job.”
The Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1 SEC) set a school record by scoring 40-plus points in each of their first five games, but produced only one garbage-time touchdown in a 35-7 loss against the Gamecocks two weekends ago.
Bobo said his abandoning a running game that came in averaging 250 yards per game was a major error, as it allowed the Gamecocks’ talented pass rushers to focus on hounding quarterback Aaron Murray in the pocket. Freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall entered that game ranking first and seventh in the SEC in rushing, respectively, but combined for just 25 carries and 81 yards against South Carolina -- 111 yards below their combined average -- as the Bulldogs tried to pass their way back into the game after falling behind 21-0 early.
“I think it’s just a little bit of pressing on everybody’s part, coaches included, with the deficit that we got,” Bobo said. “And we did not stick to our game plan and ultimately it ended up what it ended up and we really didn’t execute well in all areas. Ultimately that’s my job to keep us on track in what we’re doing and that’s what we’ll be trying to do this week.”
So when the Bulldogs return from a one-week hiatus this weekend against Kentucky (1-6, 0-4), it would be a safe assumption that they will try to regain the form in the running game that helped them maintain impressive balance during their early-season scoring run. They hope a quick start against the Wildcats can help them resume their pursuit of the school’s single-season offensive records for scoring and total offense that seemed sure to fall prior to hitting a roadblock in Columbia.
“I think we want to score early, just to get us some confidence, get us some momentum -- especially with the way we played against South Carolina, not being able to put points on the board,” said Murray, who passed for a career-low 109 yards against the Gamecocks. “I think to be able to put that behind us and say, ‘OK, let’s get some points early, get some momentum, try to get their crowd out of the game,’ I think that will be huge for us offensively.”
It helps that Kentucky’s injury-riddled defense has not defended the run or the pass particularly well. After allowing previously struggling Arkansas to post 49 points and 533 yards in two-and-a-half quarters of a game that was halted by inclement weather last weekend, the Wildcats are 12th in the SEC in run defense (183.3 yards per game) and 11th against the pass (199.6 ypg).
The Bulldogs claim their collective confidence did not suffer from the humiliating loss against South Carolina, but the Wildcats’ own defensive problems will probably help if the Bulldogs need a boost.
“We’re just going out there and balling, having fun,” said Gurley, who still ranks fourth in the league at 95.8 rushing yards per game. “Just go out there and play our game, really. We know what we’re capable of, so we’ve got to go out there and get it.”
They also must retain the lessons they learned against the Gamecocks.
Center David Andrews insisted that South Carolina did not manhandle Georgia’s offensive line as thoroughly as it appeared on television -- that a handful of mental errors by Bulldogs linemen were the biggest difference in the outcome. Receivers Marlon Brown and Tavarres King said their teammates suffered from focus issues by dwelling on previous failures, causing the offense to bog down.
“You’ve just got to grow up,” Brown said. “You’ve just got to be like, ‘OK, that was the last play. The play’s over. I probably messed up, but I’m not going to mess up on this play. The next play, I’m not going to mess up on that play,’ and then just keep playing and having a short memory.”
It might sound overly simplistic, but the Bulldogs firmly believe those minor errors added up into the overall disaster that resulted in Columbia. Receivers staying composed and catching some of the screen passes that fell incomplete, tailbacks hitting the correct holes a couple more times, linemen blowing fewer of the assignments that eventually led to far too many third-and-long situations -- if any of those factors had been different early against South Carolina, the Bulldogs believe they might have scratched their way back into the game.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, particularly while occupying the national spotlight, but the Bulldogs hope it will be instructive as their offense attempts to get back on track by making sure that both the run and pass remain active elements of their scheme.
“That’s part of the whole thing,” Bobo said. “The quick screens, the bubble screens, the run game, staying ahead of the chains. That’s really the No. 1 thing we want to do as an offense this week is stay ahead of the chains, keep ourselves in good down-and-distance, and being balanced is part of doing that.”