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Georgia redshirt sophomore running back Zamir White (3) is hoping a solid ground game can help redshirt junior quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) continue to develop.

The Georgia Bulldogs have not averaged 550 yards and 55 points with some high-flying, up-tempo offensive assault under new coordinator Todd Monken.

Instead, the Bulldogs of 2020 often resemble the Bulldogs of recent years.

"I think our identity is a hard-nosed offense that is going to run the ball efficiently," redshirt sophomore tight end John FitzPatrick said Monday. "Then we're going to take our shots. We're able to spread the ball around, and whatever Coach Monken dials up, we're going to go do it."

The Bulldogs have been effective offensively in spurts during a year in which redshirt junior quarterback Stetson Bennett surprisingly took the reins during a 37-10 opening win at Arkansas and continues to take first-team snaps coming off Georgia's lone open date of this 10-game regular season. Georgia erupted for 24 first-half points against Auburn, 27 second-half points against Tennessee and 24 first-half points against Alabama, but the Bulldogs failed to score in the second half against the Crimson Tide in a 41-24 loss.

As the No. 5 Bulldogs (3-1) prepare for this week's trip to Kentucky (2-3), just what is Georgia's offensive identity?

"It is what the defense gives you," Bulldogs fifth-year head coach Kirby Smart said. "If they're playing man-to-man, then we have to be able to take shots and make plays. If they're playing off-coverage and giving us RPOs, we have to be able to take it. If they're taking chances on the run and we have to play-action them to get on top, you have to be able to do it. It never changes. I think you guys want a perfect answer, but it's really a lot more of, 'What are you good at?' and, 'What can we do better than they do?'

"When you look across the league, the teams that are able to run the ball and play-action pass and do those things are the ones that are most successful, regardless of the total number of points and the total number of yards and all the differences in statistics. You need the ability to run the ball when you have a quarterback that is still developing and is still young. You have to be able to run the ball and help him in regards to doing that."

Georgia is averaging 418.5 yards per game, up slightly from the 408.1-yard average last season in the one year with James Coley as coordinator, but comparisons have to be made carefully this season given the league-only schedule. Last year's Bulldogs got to feast on Arkansas State, Murray State and Georgia Tech, racking up 656, 561 and 500 yards in those three mismatches.

Bennett, a former walk-on who is holding off D'Wan Mathis and Southern California transfer JT Daniels for the starting role, currently ranks eighth among Southeastern Conference quarterbacks in efficiency. He has completed 71 of 124 passes (57.3%) for 958 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Bulldogs have been good at running the ball but not great, with redshirt sophomore Zamir White leading the team with 64 carries for 266 yards (4.2 per rush). White ranks 11th among SEC rushers.

"Nowadays, the league is changing to more passing stuff, but the running is going to be there," White said. "You always need a good run game going."

A year after LSU rode Joe Burrow's record 60 touchdown passes to a 15-0 record and the national championship, Alabama is making 400-yard passing games a weekly occurrence with Mac Jones. Ole Miss even used its frenetic tempo to take Alabama into the fourth quarter with a 42-42 deadlock before the Crimson Tide broke free, but Smart insists that Georgia must continue to be Georgia and not another program.

The Bulldogs may not always light up a scoreboard, but they are playing to their strengths.

"I think the best thing we do offensively is third-down execution," Smart said. "That has been a point of emphasis for us in practices — to convert third downs and put together a good third-down plan. That may be with play-action passes and different things off of the run game. If you are going to do those, you have to be committed to the run. When you watch the best teams on Saturday that are able to run the ball, they have play-action shots off of it.

"We've been able to utilize the tight end down the middle off of play-action. We have been able to use our wheel routes that we hit Jermaine Burton on the other day off of our play-action. The play-action game and third down would be the things we have done well. The more important thing for us to continue and improve on is the ability to run the ball inside and outside."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-6757-6524.

 

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