Georgia coach Kirby Smart acts as though he’s not all that impressed with his defense’s feat of having played eight games this season without allowing a rushing touchdown.
Perhaps he should be.
According to people into such things, it’s something that Georgia has never done. Well, at least since the 1940s. As one might imagine, football records get a little shaky before that.
Patrick Garbin, a UGA football historian from Athens who is working on his ninth book about the Bulldogs, gets into such statistical anomalies. So, he put his full energy into researching this particular topic this week until, well, he finally had to quit.
What did he find?
For starters, Garbin verified that not only is Georgia the only FBS team to not allow a rushing touchdown to this point in the season, it is the only team in all of college football not have allowed an opposing player to reach the end zone via the rush. That’s all, as in FBS, FCS, Division II and Division III.
“I started to go into the NAIA and I just had to tell myself to stop,” Garbin said with a laugh. “You can’t even tell what conference most of the teams are in.”
As for the Bulldogs, it’s unquestionable that this is the latest they’ve gone into a season without giving up a score on the ground. Garbin said the fewest he found was the Georgia team that allowed only four rushing TDs in 1968. He said the 1981 and 1959 teams gave up only five rushing scores.
It should be noted that all three of those squads ended up as SEC champions.
None of which is to say this year’s Georgia team will end up conference champions because of it rushing defense. But it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Entering Saturday’s game against Missouri — a pretty good rushing team, by the way — the Bulldogs currently lead the SEC in rushing defense (77.6 ypg), scoring defense (11.4 ppg) and total defense (268.1 ypg).
Smart remains skeptical about all those sparkly numbers, especially the zero next to rushing touchdowns.
“It’s a great feat to have, but I would trade some ‘goal-line rushes’ for some ‘not big plays,’ you know what I mean?” Smart said Tuesday night. “I’d much rather not give up long passing plays. But the guys are proud of it, and they try to own it.”
They are proud, especially the defensive linemen.
“We try to carry it with us, but Coach Smart always brings it down,” junior defensive end Malik Herring said. “In practice he’s like, ‘oh, the scout team just scored again.’ But, yeah, it’s pretty cool.”
To be sure, stopping the run — period — is an important statistic when it comes to establishing a dominant defense. And while some might quibble with the competition the Bulldogs have faced so far and each team’s inherent running ability, it’s always helpful to stuff the run.
Florida, a top 10 team, managed only 21 yards on 19 carries last week. Kentucky had the most against Georgia so far this year with 160.
Missouri come to Sanford Stadium sixth in the SEC in rushing offense at 182.4 yards per game and have scored 12 times via their ground attack. One hundred eighty-two happens to be a much-discussed number at Georgia’s football complex this week.
You see, Missouri rushed for 182 yards and three touchdowns in a 43-29 loss to Georgia last year in Columbia. The official stats from the game show 172, but don’t bother debating that with Herring.
“We know last year they put up 182 yards on us because the coaches are running around here with signs that say 182 on them,” Herring said. “It’s just so we won’t forget and go hard on Saturday.”
Indeed, it would another incredible feat for the Bulldogs to keep Missouri out of their end zone, running or otherwise. As Garbin’s research suggests, the very best teams don’t allow much on the ground.
The 2017 Georgia team that reached the national championship allowed only eight rushing TDs in 15 games. Conversely, last year’s team gave up 18 rushing scores in the last 10 games.
This year, No. 1 Ohio State and Iowa are the closest teams to Georgia with two rushing scores against them.