Junkyard Mail: How much should 2014 Dawgs rely on the run?

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Hutson Mason opens fall practice under the watchful eye of Mike Bobo. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
Hutson Mason opens fall practice under the watchful eye of Mike Bobo. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Hutson Mason opens fall practice under the watchful eye of Mike Bobo. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

It’s officially football season, now that Mark Richt’s Bulldogs have started preseason camp, so let’s see what’s on the minds of fans in some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …

Jimmy Howard writes: Bill, I know all about the benefits of a balanced offense, and Mike Bobo has shown in recent seasons that he understands well how a strong running game sets up a strong passing game. But with Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Brendan Douglas and elite newcomers Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at tailback, plus a changeover at quarterback, do you think maybe Georgia will (or should) rely on the running game a bit more this season?

If Malcolm Mitchell weren’t sidelined (again) and Justin Scott-Wesley weren’t coming back from injury a bit slower than expected (plus facing a one-game suspension), I’d argue the Dogs’ receiver corps was just about the equal of its tailback corps, which would make the case for a balanced offense a no-brainer. Heck, with a still deep group of more than a dozen receivers that includes such sure-handed, dependable players as Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, chunking the seed is still a major part of Georgia’s arsenal. And with Reggie Davis and, hopefully, Brendan Langley coming along, the stretch-the-field speed of Mitchell and Scott-Wesley may not be missed.

But, yes, you’re right, Jimmy, it’s likely that, at least initially, Bobo will rely strongly on his running game to take some pressure off QB Hutson Mason and set up the play-action passing game — assuming, that is, the rejiggered offensive line opens the holes.

Of course, you also can expect that early opponents are fully aware of the Dogs’ running talent and also the fact that the fifth-year senior quarterback doesn’t have as strong an arm or as much mobility as predecessor Aaron Murray, so they may load the box and sell out against the run, daring Mason to show what he can do with his arm. I do think Bobo will feature Gurley heavily in his game plans against Clemson and South Carolina, but will want to keep the defenses honest by reminding them of how quickly Georgia’s passing game can strike, too. I think, particularly as the season progresses, we’re likely to see more uptempo spread plays in the offense, too.

In recent seasons, Bobo has become much more adept at taking what the opposing defense gives him and adjusting his offensive approach. As he put it this week at a press conference, “We’re going to have to see how we unfold as a team offensively and what our best personnel groups are and what our identity becomes for us to move the ball. That changes year to year. Everybody sees Georgia as a two-back team, which we do. But last year we were a one-back team 74 percent of the time with three receivers and one tight end and one back. … We’re still going to have that element of two-back runs and two-back power game to establish some physicality when we go in the stadium and to help with our play-action passes.”

So, bottom line: Maybe a bit more run-oriented to start the season, setting up the passing opportunities, but when you’ve got the weapons at your disposal that Bobo has, you’d be crazy not to use them all.

Nick Chubb practices Friday in Athens. (Steven Colquitt / UGA)

Nick Chubb practices Friday in Athens. (Steven Colquitt / UGA)

DinoDawg writes: Bill, the more I hear about those five-star freshman backs we’ve added to the roster, the more excited I get. But then I look at the talent that’s ahead of them on the depth chart, especially the best running back in the country in one Mr. Todd Gurley, and I wonder how likely is it that Sony Michel and Nick Chubb will see the field much this season. What do you think?

I think it’s the sort of problem football coaches love to have. Plus, if you remember last season you know how quickly that running back depth can be depleted. I also think it’s necessary these days in the SEC to have four or five top-notch tailbacks you can shuffle in and out of a game. LSU and Alabama have had a lot of success with that. And Mark Richt promised this week about his freshman backs: “These guys will be getting a lot of reps.” How much the true freshmen play and how quickly they get into games no doubt will depend in part on how quickly they pick up the playbook, particularly blocking. That’s a key aspect of the game for Georgia tailbacks and generally the most difficult thing for a running back coming out of high school to master. So give them a little time. Still, while I expect the largest chunk of the carries to go to Gurley — I mean, if you’ve got a threat like him, there’s no reason not to keep using it — I figure we’ll see Brendan Douglas and Chubb both spelling Gurley on the straight-ahead running plays, and the shiftier, faster Keith Marshall and Michel as the change-of-pace backs. Basically, Bobo should be able to have a fresh set of legs capable of taking it to the house in the game at all times.

Marietta Slim writes: Bill, I know a lot of fans are worried about a possible fall-off from Aaron Murray to Hutson Mason at the quarterback position this year, especially at the start of the season, but what worries me more is the situation behind Mason, who’s not as elusive as Murray. What happens if Mason can’t play? Who do you see getting the call if he has to come out of the game?

Slim, based on what I’ve heard and what I saw at the spring G-Day game, I’d expect Faton Bauta to be first off the bench if anything happened to Mason. As I’ve said before, there is quite a gap between Mason and his backups, but I thought at G-Day Batau showed a pretty good command of the offense, a surprisingly nice touch on his passes and a mobility that would help make up for a lack of real-game experience. While he’s been considered primarily a “running quarterback,” Bauta was pretty good through the air at G-Day, showing a stronger arm than expected, especially on a fourth-quarter drive in which he completed 47-yard and 41-yard passes on consecutive plays for a score. Brice Ramsey definitely has the strongest arm of the quarterbacks on this team I’ve seen in action, but he didn’t look as sure of himself at G-day as Batau did.

Faton Bauta starts out preseason camp as the likely backup at quarterback. (Steven Colquitt / UGA)

Faton Bauta starts out preseason camp as the likely backup at quarterback. (Steven Colquitt / UGA)

Summing up a number of issues surrounding this year’s football team, SimpleDawg writes: Hey Bill, I remember when Aaron Murray was lamented as “the worst QB to ever play at UGA” by some of the “faithful”; yet now, he’s the reason for despair over his departure. Seems like we had a similar situation years ago. DJ Shockley worked out pretty well. Although Hut isn’t the same type or style of player as DJ, he has many more superlative weapons at his disposal to move the chains and score points. If the offensive line plays well, this offense will burn out scoreboards all over the South. While the defense is a realistic cause for concern, I believe the talent is available, and has been for years. The problem has been in the teaching and in the scheming. Never doubt old axioms … Keep it Simple, Stupid. Playing fast means playing on what you see and feel, not what you think. Instincts enhance speed … thinking, kills it. As for the arrests, a lot of people are having a great deal of fun at UGA’s expense, joking about striped uniforms, etc. The facts are those same guys who have been in trouble turned down several high-profile suitors to sign with Georgia. The reason that they are in the news, and usually off of the team, is because in Athens they’re not protected by local law enforcement nor coddled by the UGA Athletic Dept. They are treated as students, citizens, and the general population — they are expected to obey the law and act like responsible adults. Georgia should not be condemned for that … they should be commended. This could be a very good year for the Dawgs, especially if we begin the season by beating both Clempsin and South Kakalaki. I am ready for some FOOTBALL! Woof, Woof!

Simple, I’m just waiting for a faction to emerge that will be complaining about why Bobo and Richt insist on playing Mason and not giving [fill in the blank] a chance at quarterback. It’s the nature of college football fandom. I think your analysis of Georgia’s defensive woes is on the mark. The Dogs’ biggest problem last year wasn’t lack of talent but lack of coordination and leadership. All through the season you could see confusion on the field, particularly in the secondary, and a lot of players looking to the sideline, where Todd Grantham too frequently waited until the very last moment to get in a call that all the players didn’t understand. It wasn’t a lack of speed that caused Georgia defenders to get burned usually, it was being out of place. Hopefully, Jeremy Pruitt’s streamlined schemes and greater attention to the secondary will go a long way toward fixing that. As for the off-the-field situation, Georgia has unfortunately developed a reputation among national media types for “discipline problems,” even though other teams have just as many problems and don’t deal with them nearly as forthrightly as UGA does. I liked what Richt said this week: The players who get arrested have the discipline problem; the vast majority of Georgia’s players don’t. And I agree that, barring another spate of key injuries, this could indeed be a very good year for the Dawgs.

Finally, reacting to a letter last week proposing that longtime coach Vince Dooley’s name be attached to Sanford Stadium, Steve Upshaw writes: Here we go again. Let’s NOT change the stadium name. To add Dooley to the stadium name would solidify what many already say we are at UGA — average. Look at his career W/L record. In 25 seasons, he averaged 7.1 wins per season. In 20 bowl appearances, he had eight wins — EIGHT!! Legendary, hardly. UGA won the title in 1980, but I could’ve coached that team. Number 34 won that championship. We had a chance for two more titles while Herschel was on campus, but Dooley’s defense could not stop Penn State nor Pittsburgh (and Clemson) when it mattered. Dooley was the most conservative, mealy-mouthed coach ever. … I guess we should change the name of the university to UGR for Richt. His numbers are much better than Dooley’s.

Steve, you sort of overlook the six SEC championships won by Dooley teams, the fact that teams played fewer games per season in those days, and the consistency UGA’s program enjoyed during his tenure while many other comparable programs went up and down. And if you think the 1980 Dogs were a one-man team, you really need to go back and read up on that season. Overall, I’ll just say this: I was always proud to have Vince Dooley as UGA’s coach, no matter how his teams did. And I’d be proud to have his name represented where Georgia plays, whether it’s as part of the stadium name or with the field named in his honor.

Let’s close out by noting that the very talented Frank Martin, who wowed everyone last year with his UGA hype videos, particularly the classic “Awaken the Nation” film the week before the LSU game, has come up with a fall preview video set to the tune “Break the Fall” that’s sure to get the old Red and Black blood pumping. Check it out.

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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