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Rushing Efficiency Under Kirby Smart

Josh Hancher

Georgia fans take pride and claim Bulldogs are RBU.  It's hard to argue that it is not considering how many NFL backs have played in Athens.  There is also a significant crowd that wants to see an modern more open offense and expected that with the hiring of Todd Monken.  The evolution of offensive play calling under smart from Jim Cheney to James Coley and now Todd Monken is not hard to spot, but the running game is and will always be a significant part of the playbook.  Don't look for the 30/70 run pass split of a Mike Leach or Josh Heupel's desire to run 80+ offensive plays.  Georgia's Run/Pass rate under Smart
  Run Pass  
2016 54.5% 34.7%  
2017 65.3% 41.4%  
2018 58.6% 47.0%  
2019 53.0% 47.2%  
2020 52.8% 44.4%  
2021 55.6% 47.2%  

It was surprising to me to see that Monken did in fact run it that much in 2021.  But, was some of that due to the fact that Georgia had leads and installed the "Kirby Death March?

Let's look at some rushing splits and yardage stats. 
  Rush Att Yards YPC TD Rush EPA Rush Su Rate  
2016 533 2,486 4.7 18 0.107 45.3%  
2017 670 3,876 5.8 42 0.227 45.2%  
2018 567 3,343 5.9 30 0.262 48.4%  
2019 525 2,591 4.9 21 0.122 46.1%  
2020 377 1,742 4.6 18 0.194 49.7%  
2021 545 2,866 5.3 29 0.206 50.1%  
The 2018 offense was high water mark for offense under Smart until 2021 (yes everything is a small sample size), but look at the 2018 and 2021 rushing stats

2018 5.9 yards per carry, but "just" a 48% success rate.  (for those looking for a refresher on success rate definition).  2021's rush offense had a higher success rate of 50%, but a lower yards per carry. Now look at the Rush EPA, 2018 had a elite rushing efficiency of .262 which was 13th in FBS and 15th in rush success rate at 48%.  Analytics nerds will always tweet at you that optimal offense is throwing the ball.  That was A LOT of plays and to score those points and gain those yards.  The 2021 offense rushed it for fewer attempts, fewer yards per carry, and even less efficiency (.206 EPA) but had just one less touchdown.  Throwing the ball to set up the run, doesn't require an unbalanced game plan.  Monken and Smart only called 3% higher percentage of pass plays in 2021 than in 2018.

Well, was that all because of the leads Georgia had in 2021?  Let's look at some splits and see.
Quarter 1st 2nd 3rd 4th  
Run %  
2018 59% 51% 65% 70%  
2021 50% 47% 55% 72%  
Run/Pass Att  
2018 125/87 120/114 135/73 143/60  
2021 122/122 121/135 132/107 151/58  
Yards Per Carry  
2018 6.5 6.7 7.7 5.1  
2021 5.8 4.7 7 5.5  
Interesting to see the the first and third quarter splits.  59/41 in 2018 and 50/50 in 2021 and 65/35 versus 55/45.  This is all hard to process by just looking at the rushing stats, but before dig into that I just wanted to show that a "modern opened offense" doesn't require a shift in balance of play calling, but the quality of plays called. Also remember that the 2018 offense averaged 7.1 yards per play and as good as the 2021 offense was, it had 7.0 average per play.  Georgia's 2021 points per game was 38.7 and 37.9 in 2018.

Yards Per Play by quarter.
  1st 2nd 3rd 4th  
2018 6.9 7.7 8.3 5.8  
2021 8.1 6.9 7.3 5.7  
Was the 2018 offense better?  Georgia didn't find itself in many shootouts thanks to one of the best defenses in the playoff era.  The SEC Championship certainly had this blogger questioning "Can Georgia win a 38-35 type game?"   The 2018 LSU game definitely got out of hand and the offense couldn't catch up.  But, I still think that we have yet to see the offense peak under Monken, and maybe this year running game can be as explosive as we saw the passing offense in 2021.  Thanks for reading and sharing.  Please considering joining the community here at Dawgs Central to get even more data in the forum along with news, recruiting intel, Georgia lifestyle, interviews and more from all the collaborators here at Dawgs Central

Edited by Josh Hancher


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The 2018 LSU game definitely got out of hand and the offense couldn't catch up.

Here's a hill that I will die on. The 2018 LSU game got away from us because Cheney got away from what was working. He got pass happy with a run-oriented offense and inexplicably stopped handing the ball off to Holyfield.

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