Affecting games has been much more enjoyable for Georgia junior running back Elijah Holyfield than wrapping them up.
The son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield rushed for 293 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry for last season's Southeastern Conference champions, but most of his damage occurred against defenses that had been worn down by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Holyfield now appears during the first quarter of games and has rushed 14 times for 100 yards and a 7.1-yard clip in opening whippings of Austin Peay, 45-0, and South Carolina, 41-17.
Due to concerns about the impact of Hurricane Florence this weekend, officials at Georgia and MTSU on Thursday agreed to move the start of Saturday’s game from 7:15 p.m. to noon. It will be televised on ESPNews and will stream live on the ESPN app.
"There is stuff I can do better, but I want to progress every week, and I think I am doing that," Holyfield said after last week's win over the Gamecocks. "I was better this game because I think I got more of a feel for it. I came out early during the first game, so I got to play a little longer in this one."
Holyfield rushed nine times for a career-high 76 yards at South Carolina, topping the 51 yards he had in consecutive weeks last season against Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder appeared in mop-up duty against the Volunteers and Commodores, games the Bulldogs won by a combined score of 86-14.
His first carries in last Saturday's game — which was being billed as arguably the most important matchup in the SEC East all season — took place with more than three minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
"I've been very, very pleased with how he works and how he plays," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Wednesday. "He runs with great toughness, and he loves contact. He's getting more opportunities, and he's been chomping at the bit for these opportunities. Now he's getting to take advantage of them.
"I've been pleased with the ball security that he's shown, but we're trying to get more explosive in the run game. We've got to have some runs go for longer clips if we're going to be as good as we need to be. We need to turn the 10s and 15s into 20s and 30s. That's important to us."
Holyfield's second carry at South Carolina resulted in a 15-yard gain, and he had a 26-yard carry midway through the third quarter as Georgia was using a 21-0 surge to turn a 20-10 halftime lead into a 41-10 laugher.
The Bulldogs currently have a pecking order at running back of sophomore D'Andre Swift, Holyfield, junior Brian Herrien and freshman James Cook. Holyfield's 26-yarder was the longest run by a tailback in Saturday's game, with receiver Mecole Hardman making a 30-yard gain off a lateral.
Georgia receiver Demetris Robertson took a speed sweep 72 yards for a touchdown against Austin Peay, and Cook had a 36-yard scamper against the Governors during the same mop-up duty Holyfield experienced last season.
"Each one of our backs is different in his own right," Smart said. "They all have similarities and they all have differences, but I think you could say that about every position and every player. Each one is unique, but the one thing that's consistent is that they all practice really hard and help on special teams a lot."
Georgia's offense may not have produced the breakaway runs Smart has desired entering Saturday's game against Middle Tennessee State, but the multitude of weapons is evident. Holyfield is quick to admit that Hardman, Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley and the rest of the receivers are making it difficult for opposing teams to try to stack the box, which benefits his game.
Should Holyfield's first two games serve as an accurate barometer for the weeks ahead, he will do his share of benefiting the offense.
"He's doing a good job in pass protection, too," Smart said. "A lot of pass protection is knowledge and knowing leverage and understanding what the defender is trying to do to you, and he's grown in that regard."
Said quarterback Jake Fromm: "He's a big, physical runner, and I'm proud of the way he's running the football and mashing guys. It's exciting to see, and I hope he continues to do it."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.