|Quayvon Hicks (Photo: Brant Sanderlin/AJC)|
The one position that always comes to mind when I think about the success or failure of the Georgia running game, during the Mark Richt era, is fullback. Say the names Brannan Southerland, J.T. Wall, Des Williams, or Shaun Chapas, and most Georgia fans will nod their heads in approval at the contributions each gave during his time as a Bulldog.
And while many fans around the SEC have long since forgotten who each of them are and what they did as players, you can’t help but look at the relative ineffectiveness of Georgia’s running game over the last several seasons and wonder where the change began and why.
I mean, it’s not like they haven’t had the talent. If nothing else, Georgia has always had the talent to compete and be relevant in the SEC for as long as Mark Richt has been in charge. So, again, what’s the problem? How did a program that produced the likes of Musa Smith, Knowshon Moreno, and Thomas Brown suddenly become the program that’s struggling to find a rusher who can be effective on a weekly basis?
My theory is simple, while players like Smith, Brown, Moreno, and Lumpkin had the luxury of running behind guys like Brannan Southerland, J.T. Wall, and Shaun Chapas—all of whom were not only strong, capable, blockers but excellent goal line threats as well—other tailbacks haven’t been as lucky.
The winds of change seemed to begin after the 2008 season ended. Brannan Southerland graduated and Georgia saw it’s last 1,000 yard rusher in Knowshon Moreno (1,453 yards) depart.
Now, before some knowledgeable fan decides to challenge me with comments that speak to how great a back Moreno was, and how Stafford’s abilities as a quarterback played just as much of a role in the success of the running game as anything, let me be very clear on something: I’m not saying that the fullback was the only reason Georgia’s running game was successful. I’m saying that the presence of a good fullback was the reason the running game was as productive as it was.
One thing you cannot argue is how good guys like Southerland, Wall, and Chapas were at bulldozing defenders and opening holes. Each of those guys prided themselves on finding ways to get those extra yards for their team—whether the ball was in their hands or someone elses. It was about digging in, taking the hits, making the plays, and doing the dirty work.
The size of the tailback running behind them didn’t always matter so much as long as said tailback had good vision and the ability to hang onto the ball because the fullback was going to find him the space needed to keep the chains moving.
And that type of approach to playing the fullback position, at Georgia, is something that has been missing at Georgia for quite some time now.
Obviously many will disagree with me and signal out the purpose of the offensive line in establishing a more productive running game. But I have to argue again that while the offensive line is responsible for pass protection and run blocking, there is something to be said about having a guy who is dedicated to making the way of the tailback that much easier. A guy who is just as much an enforcer for that tailback as he is an offensive weapon for his quarterback.
The guy who can take one on the nose and give his running back that extra second or two to find the room he needs to make something happen. Georgia hasn’t had a guy like that since Chapas and Southerland exited and, no offense to either Bruce Figgins (who had both size and strength but not necessarily the skill set to be an effective blocker) or Zander Ogletree (a tough player better suited for being a force on special teams), but they’ve been searching for that guy ever since.
There is some reason to believe that they may have found him in Quayvon Hicks, the kid with the big heart and a lot of love for the Georgia Bulldogs, but until he steps on campus and makes his presence felt, it’s all speculation and hope springing eternal.
I, for one, am pulling for this being the year the fullback makes a comeback as the addition of two stellar backs to go along with Isaiah Crowell will likely mean even more attention to the run game at Georgia. That said, if there is to be some measure of continued success, it will start with helping these young players to find the lanes and punch through the holes and having a good guy in front of them to aide them in their way can only help those efforts.