Yesterday I explored the hypothesis that UGA's success by-and-large depends on the quarterback play. I found this hypothesis to hold no statistical water. So, I'm doing a bit more snooping around. I mean, our offense is a pro-style offense. Perhaps that's the key word that should have tipped me off from the very beginning. When you're drafting your fantasy teams, who is the most important player? It's the RB, right? Generally people like to pick a solid RB to be the foundation of their fantasy football team (and no, this is NOT an endorsement of fantasy football). Our offensive success is predicated on the ability to run the football well, as everything else (play-action, screen game, etc) is built off of it. So, definitely, the RB is the key position that MUST perform well in order for our offense to succeed. Right?
Well, let's look at some numbers. Below I've put together a list of the annual rushing leaders at UGA, and the results of the season.
2001 Verron Haynes 691 7TD 8-4
2002 Musa Smith 1324 8TD 13-1, SEC E, SEC C
2003 Michael Cooper 673 6TD 11-3, SEC E
2004 Thomas Brown 875 8TD 10-2
2005 Thomas Brown 736 4TD 10-3 SEC E, SEC C
2006 Kregg Lumpkin 798 6TD 9-4
2007 Knowshon Moreno 1334 14TD 11-2
2008 Knowshon Moreno 1400 16TD 10-3
2009 Washaun Ealy 717 3TD 8-5
Ok, so, looking at the numbers of the LEADING rusher doesn't appear to give us any great insight into whether rushing matters. In terms of yardage, Cooper's 2003 SEC East Title year is the lowest of all nine years, yet the Dawgs were in position to win the SEC. Knowshon put up more than double that in the disappointing 2008 campaign. Of course, I have to remember...Georgia hasn't featured a single-back exclusively for all nine years, so perhaps if I just go back and look at the RUSHING GAME totals, I'll get a clearer picture...
Rushes Yards YPA TD Result
2001 471 1936 4.1 17 8-4
2002 536 1954 3.6 18 13-1, SEC E, SEC C
2003 562 1889 3.4 22 11-3, SEC E
2004 463 1882 4.1 16 10-2
2005 455 2108 4.6 16 10-3, SEC E, SEC C
2006 426 1526 3.9 21 9-4
2007 509 2305 4.5 32 11-2
2008 426 1928 4.5 21 10-3
2009 443 2093 4.7 17 8-5
So again, very little light can be shed by looking at these numbers. UGA's best year had some of its lowest rushing numbers. The only five-loss season had the 3rd highest rushing yardage total, and highest per-carry average. Now, I can already hear those of you who want to say that 2009's numbers are deceiving because of Branden Smith's success running reverses...but, I submit two things to you on that:
1st, Branden Smith isn't the only WR in the past 9 years to run the reverse for our offense...he's just the first to look REALLY good doing it.
2nd, Rushing statistics factor in Sacks as well, so they're not truly a measure of the RBs SPECIFICALLY. How would we find THAT? Well...by breaking down INDIVIDUAL RUSHING STATS for each RB each year.
This ought to be fun. For the record, I'm only going to go with Tailbacks who had over 50 carries in a season to track this. Player-Yards-Avg-TD
2001 Haynes 691 5.5 7 Smith 541 4.7 6 Sanks 338 4.0 0
2002C Smith 1324 5.1 8 Milton 314 3.8 0
2003E Cooper 673 4.3 6 Lumpkin 523 4.7 6 Browning 286 3.7 2 Powell* 276 5.4 3
2004 Brown 875 5.1 8 Ware 692 5.0 4
2005C Brown 736 5.0 4 Ware 492 4.9 1 Lumpkin 335 5.1 3
2006 Lumpkin 798 4.9 6 Ware 326 4.0 3 Brown 256 4.1 1
2007 Moreno 1334 5.4 14 Brown 779 5.3 10
2008 Moreno 1400 5.6 16 King 247 4.0 1
2009 Ealy 717 5.7 3 King 594 5.2 7 Samuel 395 4.5 3
I put an asterisk by Ronnie Powell because many of you probably have no idea who he is. Powell was a back-up DB when I was at UGA. We played on the Defensive Scout Team together. He made the move to Runningback, and amazingly, saw enough action as a deep reserve to get 51 carries, and qualify for this list. Way to go, Ronnie!
Those who want to take away from the 2009 running game based solely on Branden Smith should realize that the backs who qualified for the list in 2009 gained more yards than those in 2008, and had a higher per-carry average.
I found it interesting that the always-steady Danny Ware could never be better than second-best, though in 2004, he got 8 starts to Brown's 3. Brown and Lumpkin flip-flopped between the first and third places, basically because of injuries at different parts of their careers. Ware, though, was a solid #2 every year that he played.
Any way that you slice it, 2007 was the most productive season from a RB standpoint, but the TEAM failed to achieve. Many die-hard Georgia fans love to bring up the 11-2 record, and the whipping of Hawaii in order to make themselves feel better about themselves. But, the fact remains...for all the "ranked victories" at the end of the season, Georgia found itself without a title.
Still, it's hard to say whether a one-back or multi-back system is best. We've won an SEC title with each. We've also had under-performing years with each. Those fans who think Caleb King should be shuffled off to the bench so that Ealy can be allowed to run rough-shod all over the field should look again at the numbers. Ealy has a bunch of yards...King has a bunch of scores. They could be a very effective two-headed monster.
But, either way, I don't think you can say that the RB is where a championship lies.
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The Defense is the thing...
Or maybe the Special Team's the thing...
I dunno, I bet it's a combination of all of them.
Things I've noticed:
Georgia has not had a true steady quarter back since the days of David Green. We have yet to see a QB at the helm for more than 2 full years, and even s\Stafford's head didn't seem in it all the time. (I don't know what it was). Greene was the last QB to lead the offense for more than 2 full seasons and his time was the most productive of any Georgia QB. I would like to see this happen again and see if maybe that's what it takes. you look at many title teams and their QB's have been in the system a long time. But I think what everything boils down to, is the offensive line. they create holes for the glorified running backs, and they are also the ones keeping that 3-4 year starting QB healthy the whole time.
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