ATHENS -- It would seem to run against Georgia’s formula for success this season: the offense scoring early and often. And yet Mike Bobo, the man calling the shots for the offense, has a constant message: It’s OK if you have to punt.
“I try to reiterate that all the time,” said Bobo, Georgia’s offensive coordinator. “There’s nothing wrong with playing field position. We don’t like to punt, we want to score points, but we’ve got to execute.”
Let’s be clear: That’s not Bobo trying to dampen expectations for his offense, which returns 10 starters after leading the nation in yards per play and setting numerous school records.
No, that’s Bobo trying to tell his offense it doesn’t have to score every possession in order to win. Even if at times it might seem that way.
Georgia’s defense is young and inexperienced, and the secondary is riddled with injuries heading into the opener against Clemson’s prolific offense. So, not surprisingly, Las Vegas has set the over-under (total number of points) on the game at 72, according to www.vegasinsider.com.
And that seems low.
So does Georgia’s offense have all the pressure this year, and does it need to carry the team?
“You’ve gotta look at it a little bit from the big brother aspect now,” senior tight end Arthur Lynch said. “I think our offense leaned a lot on our defense last year. The Missouri game, we couldn’t get anything going the first quarter and a half. The defense was stepping up. The last two years in the Florida game.”
Said junior receiver Malcolm Mitchell, “I don’t think there’s pressure. I just think we know what we need to do. I think our defense will be fine. But in order to win games, you’ve gotta be able to score. In order to win games, you’ve gotta stop them from scoring. So it goes hand-in-hand.”
But even if the defense struggles, the feeling is that the offense doesn’t necessarily need to be scoring in order to help. There is the time-of-possession factor, which will not only provide time to rest and regroup, but mitigate the number of possessions.
“We help the defense out by holding the football,” junior center David Andrews said. “I know they appreciate when we go out and have an eight or 10-play-plus drive. They can get fresh, go over stuff.”
The reason Georgia can feel optimistic about that is that it’s not one-dimensional.
Quarterback Aaron Murray and tailback Todd Gurley were both preseason first-team all-SEC picks in a vote of conference coaches. Last year, Murray passed for 3,983 yards and 36 touchdowns, and Gurley and fellow tailback Keith Marshall ran for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns.
In other words, Georgia isn’t a pass-happy offense that can easily be rendered ineffective.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to do what’s gonna help our team win,” Bobo said. “Sometimes it can be moving and getting points. And if it’s throwing it all over the place to get points that day, then that’s what we’ve gotta do. But we’ve got to be balanced going into every game.”
Georgia’s offense also seems to be set up well to do that because of how much the playbook has expanded.
What was for so long a normal pro-style offense has since added spread formations and the no-huddle. So the team can go four- or five-wide receivers, or revert back to the simple I-formation with a fullback and tight end, and do so in the same series.
That’s where the experience of the players the past couple years provides flexibility. Murray and his receivers have built up a rapport during the past several years, and, led by junior Malcolm Mitchell, there is a quick-strike ability. But Gurley and Marshall can also lead a grind-it-out approach.
“With the fact we have (Gurley) and (Marshall) back there for another year and we know what we have in them, we can run the ball hopefully at will,” Lynch said. “We’ll be a very balanced offense, which in turn might make for longer drives, it might not.”
Still, despite having shown the offense can carry the team, Bobo has been driving home the point that it doesn’t need to play that way. It would lead to pressing, a sense of disappointment every time a drive doesn’t end with points, all of which is counter-productive.
Perhaps Georgia’s young defense will come through this year. In the meantime, Bobo hopes that his offense is experienced enough that a bad series, or even a turnover, is something they will quickly forget.
A team can win a 52-45 shootout, to pick a random score. But first, the team has to score those 52 points.
“There’s gonna be pressure,” Bobo said. “There’s pressure on every offense and every team in this league. And there’s pressure on every quarterback, there’s pressure on our quarterback. But, the bottom line is, he’s gotta handle his business. We believe in him, his teammates believe in him, and I think we’ll play well.”