University of Georgia photo Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon and offensive line coach Stacy Searels have yet to produce an effective ground attack five games into the season.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's running game has undergone a lot of changes since the end of last season.
Offensive line coach Stacy Searels received the added title of running-game coordinator. Bryan McClendon was elevated from graduate assistant to running backs coach to replace Tony Ball, who shifted to receivers coach.
Then the obvious big change: Knowshon Moreno skipped his final two years of eligibility after rushing for 1,400 yards as a sophomore.
"It does help when you've got a guy like that, because people have to be worried about the run," Bulldogs quarterback Joe Cox said this week. "The run game opens up everything else, especially in our offense."
The Bulldogs still miss Moreno entering Saturday's game at Tennessee. They're also missing the holes that Moreno ran through, despite a bevy of returning starters on the offensive line.
Georgia is the only SEC team averaging fewer than 100 rushing yards a game, with its 98.8-yard average ranking 105th among the 120 Bowl Subdivision teams. The Bulldogs are averaging 3.3 yards per carry -- 2.4 yards apart from Richard Samuel's 80-yard run at Arkansas and Branden Smith's 61-yard reverse against South Carolina.
"We need to get something going in the running game," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "We played a good defense last week, and we were not able to get anything going until the second half. That was last week, and we're trying a new plan this week and working hard to figure out ways of running the football."
The Bulldogs last finished a season under 100 rushing yards a game in 1963. They averaged over 200 yards from 1980-88, when they had the likes of Herschel Walker, Tim Worley and Rodney Hampton.
Moreno's early departure left Georgia with two sophomore tailbacks, Samuel and Caleb King, redshirt freshman Carlton Thomas and freshman Washaun Ealey. Yet that youth was supposed to be aided by experienced linemen.
Struggles up front
Georgia returned eight offensive linemen with multiple starts, but trouble started when left tackle Trinton Sturdivant was lost for the year with a torn ACL at Oklahoma State. Sturdivant, a Freshman All-American in 2007, tore the same ACL before last season.
"The position that has been the most affected by injuries has been the offensive line," head coach Mark Richt said. "Some of it is a little bit of a residual of a year ago. A lot of our guys were rehabbing some fairly serious injuries.
"Chris Davis has a hip injury and had surgery. Josh Davis had double shoulder surgery. Trinton had his deal and came back and got hurt again."
The Bulldogs have used three different lines through five games, with only right tackle Clint Boling and center Ben Jones maintaining status quo. Cordy Glenn started at right guard at OSU, at left guard the next two games and at left tackle the past two.
Yet these same players mixed and matched last year and made it work.
"We've got to man up and be more physical," Bobo said. "You've got to take pride in the running game and in being able to knock somebody off the ball. We're not the only team in the country dealing with injuries."
Said Boling: "It's definitely frustrating, because we haven't been playing the way we've wanted to play."
Georgia's line the past two seasons has improved dramatically after an open date, as reflected by the 42-30 win over Florida in 2007 and the 26-14 win over Tennessee a year ago. The Bulldogs amassed 458 yards against the Vols last season.
A trip to Vanderbilt awaits Georgia after this week's trip to Knoxville, and then comes the open date.
"We don't want to wait until the open weekend," Boling said. "We want to get it going this week."
Samuel leads Georgia with 292 rushing yards, but he's had only 36 the last two games. King is second with 121 yards but won't play Saturday after suffering a concussion last week against LSU, when the Bulldogs rushed 24 times for 45 yards.
Thomas hasn't played the past two weeks, which leaves whatever momentum there is with Ealey, who made his debut against LSU with 33 yards on eight carries.
"You're dealing with so many guys who have limited experience, and it's an adventure as far as seeing what things will stick with them," McClendon said. "We're trying to churn our way out of this and figure some things out, and hopefully something will start sticking."
McClendon believes Ealey showed flashes of moving the pile and producing yards after contact, areas that have been lacking in Georgia's 3-2 start. Ealey could get more opportunities in Knoxville, but if holes aren't provided, Georgia may again have to look downfield for A.J. Green.
"We're getting stuck in third-and-long situations," Cox said. "There have been instances of the line having a missed assignment or not holding on to a block long enough, and there have been times when backs missed the holes. There is not one huge problem. It's just a matter of everybody executing on the same play."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...