ATHENS, Ga. — There was a lot of chatter regarding Georgia’s running game heading into Saturday’s tilt with North Texas.
Todd Gurley had garnered some Heisman Trophy hype early this season. Quayvon Hicks had emerged as a hidden threat. Combined with Keith Marshall, the trio were pegged the best in the Southeastern Conference by Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd after facing them on Aug. 31.
It all foreshadowed a dominant ground performance against North Texas, a team that entered Saturday’s game ranked 94th in total defense and allowed 435 yards per game (168 rush).
But that just wasn’t the case.
Gurley was held to 39 yards in the first half – his lowest output in the opening two quarters since last year’s 35-7 loss to South Carolina.
And though Gurley added another 52 in the second half to finish the game with 91, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry, well under the 6.8 season average he brought in to Saturday’s game.
“We’re a very balanced offense and I think we were getting frustrated with the fact that we weren’t moving the ball on the ground as well as we wanted to,” tight end Arthur Lynch said.
Quarterback Aaron Murray (seven rushes for 37 yards) even finished with more ground production than Marshall (eight for 16) and Hicks (one for one), though most of his runs were on intended pass plays that collapsed.
North Texas players said this week that their game plan leaned heavily on forcing Georgia’s backs, specifically Gurley, to run between the tackles. Mean Green linebacker Zach Orr said the team noticed on film Gurley’s emerging ability of breaking big runs outside on first option reads, such as pitch plays or screens.
“He’s big and can pound you, and then if he gets past you, you’re not going to catch him,” Orr said earlier in the week. “We want to keep him from getting to the outside because we know he has breakaway speed.”
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said that North Texas executed its game plan with poise.
“They wanted to stop the run and they did a nice job of that,” Bobo said. “Fortunately we made enough plays to win the ball game.”
But were there moments that Georgia had to abandon the run for the pass when it didn’t want to?
“No question,” Bobo said. “There were a lot of times.”
Georgia, for the most part, did have success in its aerial attack.
Murray, in one of the few college games he’s played in the rain, finished 22-of-30 for 408 yards and three touchdowns while distributing the ball to nine different receivers. He said that his pass catchers’ ability to persevere amid the precipitation made his job easier.
A player that Murray praised heavily was Lynch, who finished the game with a career-high 85 yards and a touchdown on four catches.
“He played a great game and almost had two touchdowns,” Murray said. “He made some great catches out there.”
One of those catches was another David Greene-esque fake pass by Murray, the exact one that went for 66 yards and a Marlon Brown touchdown last year against Ole Miss.
Though it didn’t go for a score this time around, it did set Murray up for a one-yard touchdown run on the ensuing play. Georgia then took a 28-21 lead in the third that it wouldn’t relinquish.
Lynch said that though he expected a stronger offensive output, he was still pleased, and ignored the crowd’s boos in the middle portion of the game. He added that he expects the Bulldogs to be fully prepared for next weekend’s showdown with LSU.
“People are very nit-picky and want a perfect game, but no one plays a perfect game,” Lynch said. “You take away a couple key plays, which I think we’ll be able to correct, and there’s not much to worry about.”