ATHENS, Ga. — With the proven tailback tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and with freshman quarterback Jacob Eason learning the ropes in the Southeastern Conference, the Georgia Bulldogs ran the ball 58 percent of the time last season.
Appalachian State, which visits Georgia this Saturday in the season opener for both programs, did not have that dynamic a year ago yet rushed 63.4 percent of the time.
"They love to run the ball," Bulldogs senior inside linebacker Roquan Smith said this week. "That's what they do on offense, and it's what they did all last year. You've just got to expect that going into the game. It's what they do best."
The Mountaineers, who are coming off a 10-3 season that ended with a win over Toledo in the Camellia Bowl, averaged 250.9 rushing yards per game last year while allowing just 125.9. They outgained Tennessee 184-127 on the ground in last year's opener in Knoxville, which the Volunteers pulled out 20-13 in overtime.facebook
Appalachian State never got its ground game going in a 45-10 loss to Miami, rushing 49 times for 144 yards and a 2.9-yard clip, with the Hurricanes collecting 222 yards and three touchdowns on their first 15 snaps to quickly pull away. The Mountaineers have the ability to minimize possessions in a game, but Georgia second-year coach Kirby Smart doesn't know whether that will be their plan Saturday night inside Sanford Stadium.
"I think any time you play an opponent they have their strategies, and in different games they have done different things," Smart said. "They have gone hurry-up at times, and sometimes that's what people want to do to try to tempo you. Other games they have been more methodical, but they run the ball, and they run the ball really well.
"Their offensive line is tough and nasty. They do a great job with their zone schemes. They are really quick, fast guys. They have a great back, so with that thought, if they can run the ball, then it allows the clock to run."
The Mountaineers are led on the ground by fifth-year senior quarterback Taylor Lamb and junior running back Jalin Moore.
Lamb, a former Calhoun (Ga.) High School standout, threw for 2,281 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, and he rushed for 505 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, and nine scores. Moore rushed 237 times for 1,402 yards (5.9) and 10 touchdowns.
"He's an awesome back," Smith said of the 5-foot-11, 207-pounder from Shelby, N.C. "He's a one-cut downhill runner, and the system he's playing in is perfect for his style. He could be playing in the SEC right now."
Lamb completed 60.6 percent of his passes last season and can't be overlooked as a passer — he threw for 31 touchdowns in 2015 — but Bulldogs defenders are gearing to stop the run first.
"It looks like they definitely try to establish the run and be a downhill, physical team," senior defensive back Aaron Davis said. "All of us will have to be ready to make tackles, be physical and be ready for their play-action shots. They kind of dictate the pace they want to play at, so we just have to be prepared."
Smart announced after Tuesday's practice that redshirt sophomore Rodrigo Blankenship would start the season handling kickoff and place-kicking chores. The 6-1, 191-pounder from Marietta has been challenged this month by David Marvin, a graduate transfer from Wofford College.
"Rodrigo has done a really good job, and he's been really consistent," Smart said in a news conference. "We're excited with where he is."
Blankenship made all 26 extra-point tries last season and was 14-of-18 on field-goal attempts, including a 4-for-4 showing in a 27-24 win at Kentucky.
Odds and ends
Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Chauncey Manac has left the program, Smart confirmed, and will transfer to Garden City (Kan.) Community College. ... Although Solomon Kindley and Pat Allen have been the first-team guards most of this month, Smart said Kendall Baker and Dyshon Sims are vying to start as well. ... Senior snapper Trent Frix is back at practice, but Smart would not say whether the former Calhoun High snapper would play Saturday. ... Smart said Michel and Mecole Hardman have been handling kickoff returns in practice and that Terry Godwin, Hardman and Ahkil Crumpton are in the picture for punt returns.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.