What needs to happen for the Dawgs to ‘finish the drill’

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The return of Todd Gurley would be a big plus for the Dogs as they enter the second half of their season. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
The return of Todd Gurley would be a big plus for the Dogs as they enter the second half of their season. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

The return of Todd Gurley would be a big plus for the Dogs as they enter the second half of their season. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

With the college football season at about the halfway point, I’ve been talking with fellow fans this week about what Georgia needs to do this season to make it to Atlanta and beyond.

My brother Tim has no doubt about what’s needed: “Only one thing, get their best players back on the field, Todd and Sony.”

Obviously, it would be a big help if Todd Gurley is reinstated. I know Nick Chubb has done a fantastic job carrying the load the past two weeks, but I couldn’t believe it when I saw fans caught up in the excitement of the wins over Missouri and Arkansas were saying “we don’t need him” when it comes to Gurley.

Chubb is a fine back and is getting better all the time, but Gurley’s the best running back in the country. Why wouldn’t you want him carrying the football for you?

Yes, it’s true that Georgia’s offense has become a bit less predictable with No. 3 out of the lineup, and I hope it remains that way if he returns, but I tend to agree with my friend Scott, who said this week, “I still think to win it all [the SEC] we need Gurley back at some point. Preferably by the Auburn game, though I think we win the East even with another loss. Missouri’s schedule is much more favorable, but they simply aren’t good enough to run the table.”

And Tim’s right, getting back a full-speed Sony Michel (who was ahead of Chubb in the running back rotation before getting hurt) would be huge, too.

Getting Sony Michel back will be huge for Georgia's prospects. (John Kelley / UGA)

Getting Sony Michel back will be huge for Georgia’s prospects. (John Kelley / UGA)

(A healthy Keith Marshall who approached his previous game form before getting hurt last year would be the icing on the cake, but I’m not sure if we’ll see that until maybe next season.)

Still, while the Bulldogs lead the SEC in rushing at 265.9 yards per game and are averaging 43 rushing attempts, it can’t be all about the run if the Dogs are to have a chance at winning more than a bowl trophy.

I think a key to the Dogs’ continued success is remembering the lesson of the past two weeks, particularly the Arkansas game, where Mike Bobo aggressively called for Hutson Mason to throw downfield and Mason did a nice job of doing so.

In other words, mix up the playcalling and the passing game more than when Gurley was starting before. Those long passes on Georgia’ first drive against the Razorbacks set the stage for the big day Chubb had. (Having Bobo not take his foot off the gas when the Dogs have a big lead would be a good idea as well.)

Not that Georgia is where it needs to be in the passing game yet. As my son pointed out, Mason needs to keep working on his timing with the receivers. He had some awesome throws the past two weeks, but he also overthrew a wide open Reggie Davis breaking toward the end zone last week.

Malcolm Mitchell returning to form will open up opposing defenses.  (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Malcolm Mitchell returning to form will open up opposing defenses. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

And the guys coming back (Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley) probably could use the work to become more effective. Chris Conley and Michael Bennett have done a great job making the bulk of Georgia’s catches not thrown to a back, but it can only help for Mitchell to get more involved in the passing game and run some longer routes.

Some thought Georgia’s offensive line would be revealed as mediocre once they didn’t have No. 3 in the backfield making them look good, but they’ve played well the past two games. There’s still the occasional lapse in protection, but generally Boss Andrews and company have stepped up their game. They can’t let up now.

Georgia fans also need to hope the Dogs’ defense continues to improve at the rate we’ve seen the past few weeks. The transition since the first couple of games has been remarkable.

However, we saw against Arkansas that Georgia’s defensive success still hinges on the pass rush. In the second half, either the Razorbacks adjusted, particularly against the corner blitz, or the Dogs weren’t going at it as hard.

The result was the Hogs being able to take advantage of Georgia’s Achilles heel with passes over the middle, where linebackers better suited to stopping the run must try and drop back in coverage. I’m not sure what Jeremy Pruitt can do to limit the damage there, but it’s a major weakness that needs addressing, if possible.

Another major key to further success is related to a point I’ve already touched on: getting four quarters out of everyone (including Bobo and Pruitt).

Georgia can’t afford a letdown in the mental/psychological aspect of the game, either. Playing with a chip on their shoulders in Gurley’s absence proved effective. But whether Gurley is with them or not in Jacksonville, they can’t let the turmoil around Will Muschamp make them do to the Gators what everyone else did to the Dogs recently: underestimate them.

And a continuation of the ball-hog mentality that has given the Dogs the SEC’s best turnover ratio also would be a big help. The ball has tended to bounce in Georgia’s favor so far this season, but there’s no guarantee that luck will continue.

Speaking of luck, a little help from the outside wouldn’t hurt. Georgia has the tie-breaker over Missouri in the SEC East, and if the Dogs run the table there’s no problem. But a loss (say, to Auburn) could complicate things. Despite Scott’s feeling they’re not good enough to win out, the upcoming schedule Mizzou faces no longer looks all that formidable: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas. The Dogs need the Tigers to drop another one.

So, those are what I see as some of the keys to the Dogs finishing the drill this season. Do you see others? And what are Georgia’s chances of making it to the SEC championship game and beyond? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Go Dogs!

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg


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