Time for Georgia to make run for East title

ATHENS, Ga. - If Georgia is to get back on track in its run for the SEC championship, it better bring its running shoes tonight.

After last week's 20-13 loss to Florida, Coach Mark Richt said "there's no doubt'' he should have placed a greater emphasis on the running game. Said Richt: "If I could do it again, I'd definitely give the run more of a chance.''

That reminder should still be fresh in Richt's mind as he prepares for the 7 p.m.  Southeastern Conference kickoff against Mississippi at Sanford Stadium.  

The Rebels (5-4 overall, 2-3 SEC) allow an average of 219.4 yards rushing in conference games, including 254 yards given up on the ground in last week's 31-24 loss to Auburn.

Two of the last three starting running backs to face Ole Miss have been named SEC Offensive Player of the Week, including Auburn's Ronnie Brown after his 224 yards and three touchdowns last week. Overall, the Rebels have allowed seven 100-yard rushers.

For No. 7 Georgia (8-1 overall, 5-1 SEC), a win tonight preserves its hold on first place in the East and sets up a chance to clinch a spot in the Dec. 7 SEC championship game if it can win next week at Auburn.  

If Florida suffers an upset loss at Vanderbilt this afternoon, the Bulldogs would clinch the East with a win tonight. Florida plays host to South Carolina next week.

Georgia's run-pass ratio has wavered during Coach Mark Richt's two years as head coach, including a greater dependency on the run late last season but a decline in rushing production this year.

Despite having five 100-yard games from tailback Musa Smith, Georgia's rushing average has dropped from 162.5 yards per game in 2001 to 127.7 (ninth in the SEC) this year.

That drop in production comes despite the added running threat of quarterback D.J. Shockley, who has 82 yards rushing and a touchdown. And it comes despite having seniors starting across the offensive line.  

Georgia owns five straight wins over Ole Miss, and it has been winning on the ground. Last year Verron Haynes rushed for 192 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-15 win. Two years ago, Smith rushed for 144 yards in a 32-14 win in Athens.  

"I think we're definitely looking to run the ball this week,'' said Smith.

Though Georgia's overall scoring average is up, it has rushed for only eight touchdowns in nine games after finishing last year with 16 rushing touchdowns.

This year's decline in run production in part reflects a lack of experience behind Smith, who missed one game with a broken thumb. Tony Milton has proved in recent weeks that he is a quality backup, so early season concerns about overworking Smith are no longer valid. Smith, Milton and starting fullback J.T. Wall have combined to average 4.9 yards per carry.  

Richt's offense, which features a conference-best 22 passing touchdowns this year, will never remind Georgia fans of the old run-dominated days of Vince Dooley's teams. But as Georgia tries to move closer to its first SEC championship since Dooley's 1982 team, an old-school approach might be the winning plan for at least one game.  

A successful running game is an approach Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe can only wish for, because his Rebels struggle even more on rushing offense, ranking last in the league. That problem is highlighted by having leading rusher Robert Williams listed as doubtful after aggravating an ankle injury this week. Williams has missed four games with ankle and shoulder injuries, but still he leads the team with 307 yards rushing.  

Ronald McClendon, who fumbled three times against Arkansas two weeks ago but rushed for 62 yards in the second half against Auburn last week, Tremaine Turner, who is returning this week from a knee injury, and Vashon Pearson are the Rebels' other leading rushers.

"Running the football solves a lot of things,'' said Cutcliffe, who has seen his team lose three straight games while averaging only 38 yards rushing. "Running the football keeps the ball away from the opponent. It helps your football team all the way around.''

The lack of a running game has put more pressure on Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning, who has thrown six interceptions, lost a fumble and has been sacked five times in the last three losses. He threw three interceptions last week against Auburn. Manning has 2,487 yards passing this year, 461 yards away from his school record 2,948 yards last year.

Georgia should have receiver Fred Gibson back tonight after missing two games with a thumb injury. Gibson, like Smith, must play with a cast on his left hand.

Richt plans to stick with his two-quarterback system, which recently has seen starter David Greene play two out of every three possessions.

Richt also is sticking with senior receiver Terrence Edwards, who while open had a key late drop on a deep pass against Florida last week. In response to criticism of Edwards from a few outspoken fans early in the week, Georgia fans have rallied around the senior this week by sending a flood of supportive cards and e-mails to the athletic department.


The Hot News at Dawgpost provides the most current source of information for Georgia Bulldog Football. If you have more specific questions, hit The Porch, the biggest and best Dawg only community on the internet. Atlanta based recruiting analysts Scott Kennedy and Jamie Newberg are available to answer your questions literally around the clock. With Scott and Jamie around, EVERY Day is Georgia Recruiting Notebook Day on The Porch!

No one in the business knows Georgia High School football recruits better than Scott and Jamie, and they bring the information, pictures, and videos right to your desktop on a daily basis.

If you're interested, give us a try for 5 days with no cost to you, we're confident you won't be disappointed.

SPECIAL OFFER! (click here for details)

Free Recruiting Yearbook with Total Access Pass!

  • Exclusive Insider Stories by DawgPost.com
  • DawgPost.com Members-Only Message Boards
  • Total Access to all Expert and Recruiting Conten
  • Total Access to Scout Player/Roster Database
  • Total Access to all TheInsiders.com Network Content
  • FREE Football and Basketball Recruiting Yearbook (3 Month or more purchase)

    Click Here to Subscribe

Dawg Post Top Stories