Hard to imagine, but the dominance of the Georgia defense against the run has been somewhat overlooked this season. But after eight games — which includes contests against nationally ranked Notre Dame and Florida — the Bulldogs have yet to allow a rushing touchdown.
The Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1 SEC) put that streak on the line Saturday against Missouri (5-3, 2-2) in a 7 p.m. game at Sanford Stadium.
The opposition has run 218 times against the Bulldogs, with very little success, averaging only 77.8 yards per game and 2.8 yards per attempt. But the most daunting statistic is the zero that shows up in the touchdown column. Each of those figures are the best in the Southeastern Conference.
“We haven’t changed much philosophically,” coach Kirby Smart said. “We’ve added some things to our package that have helped. We’ve played well in the red area — some of that’s just a statistical, just draw.
“It’s a great feat to have, but I would trade some goal-line rushes for some not-made plays, you know what I mean? I’d rather not give up long passing plays, but the guys are proud of it and they try to own it and we work hard to keep people out of our end zone.”
Georgia gave up only 21 rushing yards last week against Florida. That’s the fewest yards allowed on the ground all year — even against weaklings Murray State (23 yards) and Arkansas State (43 yards). Kentucky had the most success, running for 160 yards against the Bulldogs. But no one has slipped one past the goal line.
Not that it’s easy, Smart said.
“In today’s world, every play has three plays, so they can throw at him, they can toss it to him or he can keep it,” Smart said. “You’re at the point of attack at all 11 positions. So if you play good run defense, it’s not that guy or that guy — it’s every guy.
“Football has evolved to the point where that guy’s cracking that guy. So the guy over there, he’s got to go make the play. You’re all tied into a string.”
Among Georgia’s run stuffers on the defensive line include Malik Herring and David Marshall on the end. Tyler Clark and Devonte Wyatt share time at defensive tackle. Michael Barnett and Jordan Davis split time at nose tackle. Barnett leads that group with 17 total tackles, with Clark at 16 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.
“We try to take a lot of pride in (not giving up a touchdown),” Herring said. “But Coach Smart always reminds us to stay humble about it. He jokes that the scout team scores on us, so it keeps us motivated, but it is a pretty cool statistic.”
The Georgia defense will have a challenge this week from a Missouri team that averages 184.4 yards per game. Missouri’s Larry Rountree III needs 45 yards to move into sixth place on the school’s all-time rushing list. He has rushed for 644 yards and eight touchdowns.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant, who transferred from Clemson after losing the starting job to Trevor Lawrence, has thrown for 1,845 yards and 14 touchdowns and run for 205 yards. He suffered a left leg injury in the first half of the game against Troy on Oct. 5, but has played the last three games.