The first time Georgia reached the red zone this season, running back Nick Chubb scored a touchdown. The score has proven to be a bit of an omen for how Georgia’s offense, armed with an improved running game, would perform in the red zone to this point.
The Bulldogs are a perfect 19-for-19 on red zone conversions through five games. Fourteen of those scores have been touchdowns, while five were field goals. The red zone — a space from the 20-yard line to the goal line — was an area Georgia struggled in mightily a year ago.
Georgia scored 84.4 percent of the time when it reached the red zone last season. Its touchdown percentage in the red zone was worse — 56 percent. This year its touchdown conversion percentage has increased to 74 percent.
“We got better at running the ball, and I think down in the red zone it’s real key to just run the ball,” sophomore tight end Charlie Woerner said.
In the red zone this season, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has called 39 running plays and 17 passes. One of those designed passing plays became a rushing touchdown when quarterback Jake Fromm scampered in from nine yards out against Tennessee.
During the offseason, scoring in the red zone and running the ball better were areas of emphasis for the Bulldogs. The two go hand-in-hand, and Georgia is averaging 237 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks 21st in the country.
“I think our offensive line and technique during the run plays has gotten a whole lot better than last year,” Woerner said. “Why quit running the ball when you’re getting 10 yards a pop in the run game?”
The Bulldogs finished 64th in the nation last season in red zone scoring. This year, they are tied for first with 11 other teams.
Still, head coach Kirby Smart is not satisfied. He rates the Bulldogs’ red zone efficiency on touchdown percentage, and five times, Georgia has settled for field goals.
One of those came last Saturday after cornerback Tyrique McGhee recorded an interception on Tennessee’s first offensive play. The drive ended in three points instead of seven. Fullback Christian Payne said when Georgia’s defense sets the offense up like that, the offense has to capitalize.
As Smart pointed out, Georgia settled for a field goal later in the game, too.
“Everyone thinks the efficiency is great,” Smart said, “but we have to score touchdowns.”