This was supposed to be the year that the Georgia run game took off. Washaun Ealey and Caleb King were supposed to be the guys to make it happen on the ground, leaving Aaron Murray free to rule the air. Everything was supposed to be good for the Georgia offense in 2010 because the end of 2009 showed, without question, that "we run this state."
Well, proof-positive that things don’t always go as planned: Caleb King went back to being the guy who couldn't stay healthy, the offensive line forgot that it still has to supply holes for the backs to run through, and Washaun Ealey left his motivation for playing tough on his key ring.
Washaun Ealey turned it on during the second half of last season, and by the time Georgia met up with Georgia Tech in the finale, it was clear that he was going to be something special. Where has that dominance gone this year?
In 2009, he averaged 5.74 yards per carry (through nine games). This season, he's averaging 4.21 yards per attempt. That's not an altogether bad average, but if you look closer, he isn't doing well in 3rd-and-short situations—which is where you'd like him to excel right now.
In 2009, Ealey had nine attempts on 3rd-and-short (a distance of one to three yards), and he averaged 7.22 yards per attempt. As a result, Georgia was able to extend drives and force defenses to play the run more aggressively—thereby opening up the passing game.
This season, Ealey is averaging 2.25 yards per attempt. He's not getting it done. That means more attention is on Aaron Murray and his wide receivers and teams have the luxury of abandoning their rush defense because there is no threat of the Bulldogs converting short-yardage situations via the run—hence the offense stalls.
So, who’s to blame for this overall lack of effectiveness?
The first finger, naturally, gets pointed at the offensive line. They aren’t dominating at the line of scrimmage and, as a result, they are getting pushed backwards by opposing defensive lines. It’s an issue we have seen before—it happened on multiple occasions last season as well (the game versus Arizona State stands out).
Does that mean the line was overrated coming into this season? Is the chemistry not yet clicking with the starting five? Is it a conditioning issue? Has offensive line coach Stacy Searles lost his ability to coach these guys successfully? Is running backs coach Bryan Mclendon in over his head? All of these are questions that have come up, and none have acceptable answers. The hope just seems to be that whatever the problem, it’s fixable and everything will be fine.
However, just as much of the blame could fall on the performance of Ealey. He doesn't seem to be running with the same amount of urgency or motivation that he did last season. Despite the questions surrounding the line, he should be doing better than he has thus far and the fumbles are just unacceptable. He played well at times last season in spite of the line—not because of it.
Perhaps there was more to his rivalry with Caleb King than met the eye. It's no secret that the two fed off each other's energy. With no Caleb to share the load with this year, Ealey might not feel the need to give more than necessary—no true competition is there to unseat him, so why bother.
Does that mean Ealey’s not giving his all? No, but most can agree that some players perform better if they know there is a possibility they will be benched in favor of another. As it stands at Georgia, there is Ealey and no one else.
Ealey shared carries with Caleb King, Carlton Thomas, and Dontavius Jackson (the latter two to a lesser extent) in 2009. This year, it's just him. He's played nearly every offensive down, as either a rusher or a pass-blocker, and it's not altogether clear that he's built for the increased workload.
Whatever the case, it's clear that this is not the same Washaun Ealey that turned heads last year. He's less confident, less effective, and less exciting to watch on the field. All three of those together contribute to an offense that has become more vanilla by the minute and a passing game that, if not for the legs of Aaron Murray, could be more of a concern.
This is an offense that has talent, but without a significant run game, Georgia is going to continue to struggle to put points on the board. Ealey needs to find his groove again—soon—and perhaps that will start with the full return of Caleb King (he's still not 100 percent) assuming he’s capable of staying healthy this season.
(This article appears courtesy of The Lady Sportswriter)