As much talk as there has been about Georgia’s offense becoming more explosive, there remains one inescapable fact surrounding Saturday’s game against Florida in Jacksonville.
If you want to win, you better run the rock.
For the past 13 years in this storied series, the team that finished with the most rushing yards won. That was the case when Georgia won the past two years and when the Gators won the three years before that.
This is not news to D’Andre Swift, who happens to be the Bulldogs’ primary carrier of the football.
“Oh, I’m very aware of that,” Swift said Monday.
The Bulldogs narrowly edged Florida on that front when they met last year at TIAA Bank Field. Georgia outrushed the Gators 189 yards to 170 and pulled away at the end of a 36-17 victory.
Don’t let the final score fool you. It was a tight contest most of the way.
Florida led 14-13 early in the third quarter and trailed only 23-17 early in the fourth quarter. But the Bulldogs put the game away with a pair of long fourth-quarter scoring drives.
Swift’s 33-yard touchdown with 4:29 to play effectively shut the door on the Gators. He finished with 105 yards on 12 carries.
What’s it all mean?
“That we need to outrush them,” Swift said succinctly.
That has proved a little more difficult this season than usual. The Bulldogs continue to be the SEC’s premier rushing team. They lead the league with an average of 237.1 yards per game. Swift is the league’s leading rusher at 107.4 yards per game.
But Georgia’s opponents increasingly are daring quarterback Jake Fromm to beat them. They're crowding the “tackle box,” which is the area within three yards of the line of scrimmage. To do that, they’re committing at least one more defensive back to run support. In turn, that means single coverage in the secondary.
Expect the same from Florida. In its second season of direction under Todd Grantham, the Gators' defense has been good against the run. They rank fourth in the SEC, at 124.1 yards per game. The Bulldogs’ defense is actually setting the standard in the league this season. They’re giving up just 85.7 yards per game.
Meanwhile, the Gators aren’t running the ball quite as well as they have in recent years. They’re 11th in the SEC at 142.4 yards per game.
Last year, the Bulldogs were able to get the best of them, but it took a lot of third-down conversions. Georgia was 8-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts, with all three of Fromm’s touchdown passes coming on third-down completions.
Offensive diversity and run-game effectiveness have been areas of focus for the Bulldogs during their off week. But what they’ll see from the Gators is not necessarily what they saw from Kentucky or South Carolina or Notre Dame.
“Every game it’s different,” coach Kirby Smart said. “It’s a matchup thing. … But I think we’ve been able to put our backs in good situations.”
He’ll get no argument from Swift. He said the Bulldogs just need to do everything they do better this week.
“As an offense, we’re straining hard, playing to the whistle, playing harder,” Swift said. “Everybody’s trying to do their job, do it longer, do it better.”
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