Does Georgia Throw the Ball Too Much? One Guy Thinks So. But is it True?
Earlier this week I received a series of comments from Bulldawg20 who asserted that Georgia’s offense was too “pass-happy” and that the Bulldogs would have been better served running the football more often. I briefly disputed that notion as Georgia runs the ball more often than not, but Bulldawg wasn’t having it. He combated the argument with statistics that included sacks as pass attempts, and cited other teams rushing totals before ultimately going so far as to criticize the Georgia defense for its failure to stop the run.
He made a lot of valid points, and I have a lot of valid rebuttals. So rather than go back-and-forth with him I figured I’d take some public space and dedicate it to answering some questions and ultimately determining if Georgia passes the ball too often.
So, let’s answer some small questions and work our way to the answer.
At the most basic level, is Georgia’s offense a too reliant on passing?
At the most basic level the answer to this question is “no.” Through 13 games this season the Georgia Bulldogs have thrown the football on 42.91% of their offensive snaps. Bulldawg20 would dispute this stat by including sacks in the “passing” category, but I will not do so. Why? Because the NCAA officially records a sack in the “rushing” category, not the “passing” category. And this is a college football article, so I will use the standard set by college football. The NCAA does not want to make a judgment on whether a QB was out of the pocket and scrambling with the intention of running or scrambling with the intention of passing – so I’m not going to make that judgment either. Accordingly, anytime a player (quarterback or otherwise) is tackled behind the line of scrimmage it goes down as a rushing attempt on the NCAA’s stat sheet and on mine. Again, if it is good enough for the NCAA then it is good enough for me.
So, with that in mind I cannot in good faith say that Georgia runs a “pass-happy” offense as the Dawgs throw the ball 14.19% less often than they run it.
Is Georgia’s offense pass-happy relative to the rest of the nation?
Again, that would depend on how you define “pass-happy,” but if you’re evaluating on a raw “how often was this team passing as opposed to running” basis the answer is a resounding, “no!” Georgia’s 42.91% passing rate (rate of throwing passes, not passer efficiency rate) ranks 81st in the country. That’s pretty darn low (the NCAA lists the statistics for 120 FBS teams and excludes a few that are in transition to that level). I have a hard time labeling a team that ranks 81st out of 120 teams in any category as a leader in that area.
Washington State throws the football on 71.23% of their offensive plays. That is pass-happy.
It should be noted, that the inverse to a team’s plays dedicated to passing is the number of plays that it dedicates to running. Georgia ranks 40th in the nation in that category. That’s a respectable figure for a pro-style offense. Certainly not a diminutive figure that Bulldawg20 would imply.
Does Georgia’s offense pass too often to be successful in the SEC?
Bulldawg20 references the run/pass ratios of Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt in an effort to show identify shortcomings of the Georgia offense. Again, I will not include sacks as passes because the NCAA doesn’t do that.
The SEC’s fourteen teams ran 11,579 plays of offense this season. 5,130 of those plays were passes. That 44.30% figure is greater than Georgia’s 42.91%. Georgia throws the ball less often than the league’s average. And, if you remove Georgia from that and compare the Bulldogs to only the thirteen other institutions the numbers become more lopsided. The thirteen other schools throw the ball on 44.42% of the time. Again, Georgia throws on 42.91% of all offensive plays.
With that in mind, here is how Georgia stacks up within the SEC:
- Arkansas: 55.57% Pass
- Tennessee: 53.60% Pass
- Mississippi State: 50.25%
- Kentucky: 48.99%
- Missouri: 47.75%
- Texas A&M: 47.65%
- Georgia: 42.91%
- Ole Miss: 42.69%
- South Carolina: 40.97%
- Vanderbilt: 40.07%
- LSU: 39.88%
- Auburn: 36.98%
- Alabama: 36.36%
- Florida: 33.72%
What does this show? Georgia is right in the middle of the conference as far as passing percentage is concerned. Now, do I wish Georgia was in the National Championship Game in a few weeks like Alabama? Of course I do. But Georgia doesn’t have an offensive line that is as ridiculously good as Alabama’s (two first team All-Americans). And, saying that Alabama’s offense is good just because they run the ball and drawing the conclusion that everybody should run the ball more is crazier than I’m willing to be.
Florida runs the ball even more often than Alabama does. I don’t want Georgia’s offense to be as poor as Florida’s. Auburn is pretty darn close to Alabama’s run/pass ratio. I would stop watching games if Georgia had an offense like Auburn’s. Running the football more often than tossing it does not equate to being a better offense or being a better football team. And for what it’s worth, neither does throwing the ball more often.
The chart below illustrates that point.
As you can see, there are good offenses that run more than Georgia and good offenses that run less. A few weeks ago I pointed out that Alabama is a much better team when they run the football. I stand by that statement and I believe it to be true. But, as this chart shows, that is not the case for every team in the SEC.
Would Georgia have been better served running the football more often?
This is a hard question to answer. Georgia certainly ran the ball well this year, and I love the Gurshall tandem, but the Bulldogs threw the ball pretty well too – and I would assert that they threw the ball better than they ran it. Here are a few measuring sticks on which I stake that claim. And, since running and passing numbers are going to differ by the very nature of the play, I’ll include a national ranking with each statistic.
- Yards Per Attempt: Georgia averaged 9.74 yards per pass attempt (1st in the Nation). The Bulldogs averaged 4.92 yards per rush (34th in the nation). Georgia is the best team in the nation at getting yards out of pass attempts, they aren’t in the top-30 in doing so out of rush attempts.
- Yards Per Game: Despite ranking 80th in pass attempt percentage, Georgia ranks 33rd in passing yards per game with 274.15. Despite ranking 40th in rushing attempt percentage Georgia ranked 42nd in rushing yards per game with 184.15. Georgia’s offense outperforms its pass attempts with passing yardage. Georgia’s offense slightly underperforms its run attempts with running yardage.
Those statistics are pretty hard to argue with. And, for what it’s worth here is how Georgia’s best passer and Georgia’s best runner stack up relative to their respective peers:
- Aaron Murray ranks 2nd in the nation in passer rating, 14th in yards, 1st in yards per attempt and 8th in TD passes.
- Todd Gurley ranks 22nd in yards, 30th in yards per attempt and 13th in touchdowns.
Should Mike Bobo have altered the offensive scheme to better accommodate for the talent on the roster?
Bulldawg20 asserted in one of his comments that Georgia relies on a system that is in place and fails to adjust to talent that is on the roster. He suggests that Georgia evaluate the talent on hand year-in and year-out and ask the following questions: 1. Who do we have? 2. What is the best play call based upon their unique talent?
There are a number of problems with this. First and foremost, it works on the assumption that Georgia is continually recruiting different styles of athletes at each position. Are the running backs Georgia currently has in its backfield any different – in skill set – than the running backs we’ve had in the past? They may be better at certain things or worse, and they may be better overall (and I think they are) but for the most part Georgia recruits elite running backs with elite skills in speed, agility, strength and vision. Georgia evaluates talent the same way year-in and year-out, just like almost every other school out there. (A notable exception would be a school that is transitioning to a new scheme, like Georgia Tech when Paul Johnson arrived. Elite passing QBs were no longer needed, running QBs were.)
So, for the most part the “skills” at hand are similar each year. Secondly, there is a huge danger in dramatically altering an offense to fit just a few players. If Aaron Murray spent three years learning a system only to have to change and learn how to feed both Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall out of a wing-T, dual back option set up (which would certainly still suit the two freshmen backs’ capabilities and would yield a whole lot more rush attempts), he would struggle tremendously. So would the offensive line and receivers who would have to embrace new blocking schemes. Remember the growing pains of the 3-4 defense? Without the correct personnel the switch from 4-3 to 3-4 is impossible. And even with the right folks it still takes time. The same goes for changing offenses.
In this particular year was the system right for this particular group of talent?
The answer to this question outweighs all other issues that have previously been discussed, and the answer to this question is quite clear.
It’s pretty hard to question Georgia’s offensive production this year and therefore it’s pretty hard to question the run/pass balance. Georgia’s offense set the school record for points in a season before the Dawgs even made it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game. The Bulldogs are averaging 458.3 yards of offense per game – that’s eight yards shy of the school record. The offense is good.
The Georgia Bulldogs aren’t passing too much. I can’t find fault in something as broad as run/pass balance when Mike Bobo and Mark Richt are trotting out the best offense in the school’s history.
That’s all I got/