At a certain level, Mark Richt's Georgia offense is all about finesse. They have a quick and mobile offensive line that excels in moving around and struggles when trying to move a pile straight ahead. Their blocking concepts generally ask their linemen to be screeners and obstacles rather than downhill road graders.
They have a fourth-year starting QB whose mastery of Mark Richt's West Coast passing game is complete. Aaron Murray conducts the Dawg's symphony of offense, making calls at the line, finding check down receivers, and torching defenses with the vertical pass if they sneak up too close. When Murray's on, the Bulldogs spread the ball around like a finely tuned machine, hitting the open man in space and moving the chains.
Then there's the rest of the offensive backfield, Mssrs. Todd Gurley and Quayvon Hicks. One would be hard-pressed to use the term "finesse" to describe their approach to football:
(FYI: Audio perhaps NSFW.)
At around 6'2, 235 pounds, Todd Gurley combines power and speed in a way that must have kept North Carolina HS defensive coaches and players up all night on Thursdays with terror and anxiety. He is no less effective at the collegiate level, with two 100-yard games already on the year and an average of six yards per carry.
Accompanying him on most of his runs is fullback Quayvon Hicks, a 6-2, 257 pound bulldozer who occasionally has his own name called in the Georgia run game.
The Georgia run game design is such that it places the role of brutality on the shoulders of Hicks and Gurley. The above play is a "Zone Stretch" call for the OL. The Bulldog OL, which averages about 6-3, 305 pounds, isn't a particularly imposing wall of flesh and pads, but they are quick on their feet. Their assignment on this play is to move laterally and either wall off the DL or allow them to run upfield and then push them sideways. The DL's own strength and aggression does most of the heavy lifting.
Meanwhile, while Zone Stretch often attacks the edge and then finds a cutback lane, Georgia's thinking cutback all along as they send Hicks between the tackles and Gurley looks to cutback early in the backfield. The result is a defensive front that is effectively stretched out trying to maintain control of the gaps across the offensive line, and then hammered in the face by the Hicks-Gurley train that cuts against the grain.
"Stretch and hammer," it's a lot like football's old Isolation play without requiring the same physicality on the OL.
Georgia will also run this play by having Gurley attack the edge as in a normal Zone Stretch run, only to quickly hand off to Hicks coming up the gut:
Since they will also pitch to Gurley on the edge with the same OL blocking scheme this play is a favorite for short yardage situations. The Bulldogs will also threaten a front by pulling a guard around on a similar outside zone run and asking him to seal off the edge for the relentless hammer to strike the edge:
Take note of how the pulling guard blocks a cornerback while Quayvon Hicks flies at the weakside linebacker and strong safety, who both stay wide and avoid playing the part of nail to the Dawg hammer.
Georgia will also make use of lead draw:
And the counter:
They struggled to run this effectively against Clemson and mostly dropped against South Carolina due to their struggles to drive defenders straight backwards.
When the "stretch and hammer" run game is going strong, Aaron Murray is at his best hitting the backs or TE Aaron Lynch on play-action short throws, or utilizing his fantastic accuracy vertically against a defense:
Georgia has struggled on third down this season, executing a combined 10-for-24 against Clemson and South Carolina. However, Murray's mastery of the system and ability to make calls and execute the quick passing game still makes them dangerous on these downs.
Here against Clemson, Murray completes a fourth-and-4 on a quick out to the slot receiver:
It's very difficult to mount a defense against a team that can run the ball, with a QB who always knows where to go with the ball in quick-game concepts. From 2008-09, the Colt McCoy Longhorns routinely dispatched teams with little else but the quick game.
In terms of their own defense, the Dawgs are very quick, very talented, and very young. The departures of 346-pound nose tackle John Jenkins and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree have left the middle of the Georgia defense somewhat susceptible, and Clemson was able to run the ball for 197 yards while South Carolina went for another 226.
The Dawgs' preferred strategy is to sit back in Cover-2 and rely on team speed, particularly from free safety Tray Matthews, to keep the offense in front of them and set up third-down situations where they can bring their pressure packages to bear. Despite losing stud outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, the Dawgs still feature Jordan Jenkins and a strong variety of zone blitzes:
The problem for Georgia is reaching third-and-long as a defense when they have a freshman starting at cornerback and a line on which you can run. Do they have the players to stand up to the LSU offense on first and second down?
For their own part, the 2013 Bayou Bengals have an offense that is very difficult to handle. While the Georgia offense is designed to feature a QB and pro-style passing concepts and easily accommodates having a stud RB like Gurley, the LSU offense under Les Miles is primarily concerned with knocking you down.
Faced with the prospect of standing up LSU's massive OL, TCU aggressively utilized their safeties on run downs and managed to hold the Tigers to 4.1 yards per carry but were beaten up on third down, where Mettenberger and the passing game helped LSU finish 13-for-19.
Odell Beckham, Jr., and Jarvis Landry combined had 13 catches for 227 receiving yards. Despite having some premier cornerbacks, TCU was unable to handle the great burden of consistently stuffing the LSU run game without being beaten on the sidelines by their excellent receiver duo.
Auburn fared no better:
In this play LSU also utilizes the "Stretch and hammer" run technique against a nine-man box with a 10th defender lurking nearby. Jeremy Hill reaches the end zone relatively untouched behind the big LSU OL and the Tigers' own 272-pound fullback, J.C. Copeland.
To truly stop LSU's run game will often require an eight- or nine-man box from Georgia's young defense, but this leaves their freshman cornerback on an island against either Landry or Beckham. He is unlikely to fare better than potential NFL first-rounder Jason Verrett.
The most likely means to a Georgia victory is to win a shootout against Les Miles' crew, which means a big performance against the famous LSU defense.
The 2013 version of the LSU D is younger and less heralded than previous Tiger defensive units, but it's scarcely different in style or substance from the 2011 or 2012 groups that ravaged much of the college football landscape.
They are lightning quick, they keep the ball in front of them, they will press outside receivers, and they have a large arsenal of zone blitzes, which are particularly deadly in their nickel and dime packages.
However, because of their youth, they can be run on.
Tre Mason of Auburn found running room to go for over 100 rushing yards by darting through cutback lanes and punishing over aggressive pursuit by the LSU defensive backfield. Gurley is likely to find a degree of running room here as well.
The saving grace of this LSU defense is the play of its defensive tackles, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, and strong safety Craig Loston. While there are other names on the team that deserve some mention, these are the ones that will make the difference for LSU in winning a shootout with the Bulldog offense.
On the back end, Loston is a very athletic 6'2, 205, and can bring the kind of run support that limits Gurley's brilliance from blowing huge holes in the Tiger defense:
Ferguson and Johnson are the real nightmare for Richt's offense. They are both powerful and athletic and unlikely to prove easy to block or impede by the Georgia OL. Consider this attempt by the TCU Horned Frogs:
Ferguson is doubled and Johnson should have been. Ferguson sheds the TCU OL like rag dolls before joining Johnson in crushing the Frog drive with a tackle for loss.
As Alabama demonstrates on a weekly basis, whatever else happens on the football field, the team that controls the trenches usually finds itself on top when the day is done.
Much like their contest with the Tigers of Clemson, expect Gurley and the Dawg offensive machine to trade some early blows with LSU before eventually succumbing as their defense fails to get Mettenberger and company off the field on third down. LSU's tremendous athleticism on defense should eventually kill badly-needed Georgia drives with timely negative plays or turnovers.