Georgia Football: Bulldogs Must Fix Run Defense to Keep SEC Title Hopes Alive

Andrew Hall@DudeYouCrazyCorrespondent IIINovember 2, 2014

This was a familiar scene on Saturday.
This was a familiar scene on Saturday.Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

Saturday’s game was supposed to give the Georgia Bulldogs a fourth consecutive win over the Florida Gators and further control of the SEC East.  Instead, an inability to stop the Gators’ ground attack resulted in one of the most embarrassing Georgia losses in recent history.

And while there are still plenty of meaningful goals that can be accomplished by this Georgia team, the Bulldogs must fix their run defense to have any shot at an SEC Championship.

In the case of Saturday’s game, statistics tell quite a story.  Florida ran the ball 60 times while attempting just six passes.  Further review makes it abundantly clear that this disproportionate load had less to do with freshman quarterback Treon Harris’ inability to pass and tons to do with Georgia’s complete failure against the run.

As Bulldogs defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt asked rhetorically (per Seth Emerson of Macon's The Telegraph), "If you can’t stop it, why would you do something else?  When you look up and they’ve got over 400 yards rushing, it’s pretty obvious we couldn’t stop it.”

Florida's 60 carries, 50 of which belonged to Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones, resulted in 418 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.  And on a day when things did not go as planned, each and every one of those yards negated something positive for Georgia. 

Freshman running back Nick Chubb accounted for 215 yards while replacing suspended star running back Todd Gurley in the Bulldogs lineup.  But Georgia’s glaring deficiency against the run made that effort fruitless. 

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Quarterback Hutson Mason threw for 319 yards, but that didn’t matter because Georgia couldn’t stop the Gators on the ground.

Game Stats
GeorgiaFlorida
First Downs2119
Yards445460
Turnovers11
Penalties / Penalty Yards4 / 304 / 31
Time of Possession27:1932:41
sports-reference.com

When all was said and done, what appeared to be an even game based on the box score was a blowout win for Florida in which Georgia never really seemed capable of winning.  And the Bulldogs' struggles defending the run leave ongoing cause for concern at two levels.

First and foremost, Saturday’s display calls into question the toughness of coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s unit.  Time and time again, Florida lined up with one sole intention—to run the ball.  And time and time again, Georgia yielded yardage—both in large bunches and in hard-earned five-to-seven-yard gains.

Georgia had shown glimpses of unrest against the run, particularly in the loss to South Carolina when backup running back Brandon Wilds consistently picked up first downs and advanced the Gamecocks’ cause in a narrow victory.  But Saturday’s shortcomings were more alarming, because Florida’s game plan was so abundantly clear from the onset.

Florida attempted just five passes in the first half, so Georgia began stacking the box.  In a second half that saw Florida attempt just one pass, the Gators racked up 256 rushing yards.  And that was with safeties like Quincy Mauger and Corey Moore sneaking up to play the run and Damian Swann cheating in from his star position.

Damian Swann misses a tackle
Damian Swann misses a tackleStephen B. Morton/Associated Press

Florida didn’t merely happen upon yards as Georgia’s defense struggled to anticipate play-calling (which was partly the case against South Carolina).  On the contrary, the Gators willed yardage against Georgia’s front throughout the contest, even with clear intentions.  And it should be noted that unlike Georgia’s offense, which played without its best player (Gurley), the Bulldogs defense was fully intact.

The second and more pressing concern is that Florida didn’t just expose a weakness, the Gators exposed a weakness that several future Georgia opponents will be able to exploit.

Two of Georgia’s remaining four opponents, Auburn and Georgia Tech, rank in the Top 10 nationally in rushing offense.  Accordingly, the Tigers and Yellow Jackets must feel awfully good about moving the football against the Bulldogs.  After all, two Gators, Jones and Taylor, ran for career highs against Georgia on Saturday.  And they did so against a healthy Georgia defense and without even feigning a desire to pass.

And if Georgia plays its way into the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, something that seemed all but assured prior to the Florida game but now is entirely up in the air, the Bulldogs will likely face Mississippi State, Auburn or Alabama.  Those three teams combined average more than 250 rushing yards per contest.

The absence of Todd Gurley, the improvement of Hutson Mason and the emergence of the defensive secondary are no longer hindering this Georgia team.  But a much more alarming deficiency defined this team yesterday.  Georgia needs to make the loss to Florida and the onslaught of rushing yards allowed an outlier performance.  Otherwise, the Bulldogs can say goodbye to dreams of an SEC Championship.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.