Georgia's offense doggie paddling

ATHENS – After a second awful offensive performance, Mark Richt was ready late Saturday night to wave his personal white flag.

"Maybe we can (run) it every down, I don't know," he said moments after Georgia beat Ole Miss 14-9. "We may try that and see how it goes."

Given time to think about it, the No. 10 Bulldogs' coach had returned to his bedrock beliefs, which are built on more than a decade of moving the football primarily through the air.

"We've got to run the ball, no doubt. I'll have to probably be a little more patient with it, but I just don't think we're going to win many big games by just pounding the rock every down against a really great defense," he said 18 hours after the game.

That means the Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) have five days to address their myriad offensive ailments before Saturday's 7:45 p.m. showdown against No. 13 Tennessee (4-1, 0-1).

"I know we need some more production," fullback Brannan Southerland said. "We need some more yards; we need some more points, but it's no one position's fault, it's no one person's fault. It's the offense as a whole. I definitely would say we're not hitting on all our cylinders so far. When we do, it's going to be amazing."

Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs seemed to be on track, leading the SEC with 33.3 points per game and gaining experience with true freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford. Then the wheels came off. Georgia hasn't scored a point in the first half of the last two weeks, and its four touchdown drives in that span have averaged 51 yards.

The Bulldogs' average drive this season consumes 47.7 yards, the fewest in the SEC, and Georgia is one of only two conference teams without a scoring drive of more than five minutes.

"I think (the players) still know we can do it, but we're going to play a pretty good defense this week," Richt said. "I don't know if this is the defense to try to get well on."

Georgia's defense, ranked No. 1 in the country in points allowed (6.8 per game), looked like it finally had grown weary of carrying the offense against Ole Miss. The Bulldogs missed tackles, were bullied in the running game for the first time and had a critical breakdown in pass coverage.

However, senior linebacker Danny Verdun Wheeler said several defenders, including himself, simply had a bad night.

"We never get frustrated with our offense, never," he said. "All we ask is they score one touchdown or even three points. Just give us three points."

Richt has more lofty offensive goals, which explains his frustration with being shut out in each of the last two first halves for the first time since 1984. A Richt-coached offense hasn't averaged fewer than 391 yards per game in a season This year, Georgia is averaging 297 and still must face four teams ranked in the nation's top 31 on defense.

The easy answer is to blame the slump on Stafford and fellow freshman quarterback Joe Cox, but that's not the accurate answer, Richt said.

"It's more than just freshman quarterbacks, although that has been part of the issue, no doubt about it," Richt said. "But the guys around them have to play better. They just have to play more consistently. They have to make a play for these guys."

In Richt's estimation, his team's pass-blocking has been its most proficient area and he classified it as "decent." Georgia's run-blocking and pass catching both are below average, he said.

The expected return of senior quarterback Joe Tereshinski this week could be a boost for rudderless offense. "I think he could, I do; he's a senior; he's a veteran," Richt said. "I think he really understands what we're doing and why. He's got a lot of cumulative reps on just about everything in our offense."

UGA national statistics

Total offense 89th 297 ypg

Passing offense 90th 163.6 ypg

Rushing offense 64th 133.4 ypg

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