ATHENS -- Mike Bobo got nostalgic this week. Georgia’s offense was helping out the defense during practice by running plays out of LSU’s playbook.
“(It) brought back some memories of some stuff we used to do,” Bobo said.
Stuff the Bulldogs used to do very recently. Once upon a time, Georgia and LSU had near-identical looking offenses, but when they meet Saturday, the two SEC powers will look much different.
“It’s a very diverse package,” LSU head coach Les Miles said of Georgia’s offense. “It’s not what you would say is a traditional run of the mill two-back offense.”
Bobo did not go to India two years ago, go up a mountain and come back enlightened or with a new playbook. It just seems that way.
Bobo’s metamorphosis as a coordinator and play-caller has in large part been a reaction to the talent around him but also a desire to play more up-tempo. The result is a record-setting offense that can score quickly either through the run or the pass.
It was just a couple years ago that fans complained that Georgia’s offense was too conservative, too predictable, etc. Now it goes no-huddle, incorporates the spread and the pistol and can veer from a five-wide receiver set on one play to the I-formation on the next -- and run or pass out of either.
“It’s a fun offense to be involved in, and I think that’s why we’ve been successful,” senior quarterback Aaron Murray said.
Bobo took over as Georgia’s play-caller midway through the 2006 season. The next year Georgia averaged 177.3 rushing yards per game and 198.4 passing yards per game. That was the last year under Bobo that Georgia has averaged fewer than 200 passing yards per game.
But the running game hit a dry spell, never averaging more than that 2007 rushing total until last year. The arrival of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall last year, and their ability to stay on the field, allowed Georgia’s offense to truly be balanced -- and be a bit more daring.
It seems a long time ago now, but as recently as late in 2011 many Georgia fans beat up on Bobo for being too predictable, and ESPN analyst Todd McShay called the offense “vanilla.”
That kind of criticism isn’t heard anymore. Of course, it’s easier to be less predictable when teams have the ability to run and pass equally well.
“But I think sometimes people mistake being predictable for being a bad thing,” Bobo said. “When you’re predictable, you know what you’re doing, too. You look over and over at times, guys that are quote-unquote predictable are usually the better teams, offensive and defensive teams, because they run what they run and they’re good at what they do.”
Teams known for their dominating run game, like LSU.
“Like LSU,” Bobo said in agreement and adding some others. “Like Alabama. Florida on defense. They know what they’re gonna do, and they’re good at it.”
Georgia players and coaches say the playbook hasn’t so much changed, or even added to, as certain parts of it are now being used. For instance, four-receiver sets and plays within it were always in there, they just needed to be dusted off when Georgia had the personnel to use it. And when it comes to the pistol, it was just a matter of slightly altering plays already in there to put the quarterback in the shotgun.
But Bobo and his staff have spent the offseason exchanging ideas with other football minds, including Jon Gruden, and watching other offenses.
“You meet with a guy here, you meet with a guy there, you see something on tape,” Bobo said. “Does this fit what we got personality-wise, can we be successful?”
The tenets of the pro-style offense remain there. Georgia still uses a tight end and fullback, much like LSU. But as Miles alluded, the Bulldogs have diversified. They can run the ball out of the spread just as easily as when they could hit a long bomb out of the I-formation.
“I want to go fast, but still let them know we’re at the ballpark and able to run the ball, too,” Bobo said.
Two years ago Bobo implemented his version of the no-huddle, in an effort to get more plays. It worked, as the team ran 1,016 plays, the second-most in program history. The most came in 2003, Richt’s third season in Athens, when he was still running the version of the no-huddle he had used as the offensive coordinator at Florida State.
Last year Georgia only ran 924 plays (still the fourth-most in program history). But the team made great use of those plays, leading the nation by averaging 7.1 yards per play. The 2012 Bulldogs set program records for points (529), touchdowns (72), total yards (6,547), yards per game (467.64), yards per play (7.1), passing yards (3,991) and first downs (297).
It’s early, but at its current pace this year, if Georgia once again played in 14 games, it would break all those records again.
“Coach Bobo does a great job of really spreading things out, running out of a pro-I, running out of a spread look, throwing out of a pro-I, throwing out of a spread look,” Murray said. “He really does a great job of keeping defenses honest and balanced. I guess a lot of it just has to do with his trust in myself, his trust in the offensive line, of understanding the schemes and just the whole offense in general. He feels great with us.”