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Jim Chaney’s Georgia offense features elite balance and consistency

Featuring a multiple approach in scheme and formation, the Bulldogs are among the nation’s best in every facet offensively.

Jim Chaney

No. 3 in Year 3.

As Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart and well-traveled offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to prepare to finish their third season together against the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, the Bulldogs are right where the coaches want them to offensively at No. 3 nationally in S&P+.

For the former Nick Saban discipline and his offensive coordinator, whose experience including running early spread offenses at Purdue under Joe Tiller and three years in the NFL, the offense has achieved the near-perfect balance they desire — the Bulldogs rank between three and 10 nationally in all six offensive measurements in S&P+.

The success represents the philosophical meld and evolution of both coaches and their varied backgrounds.

Smart, like his mentor, has come to embrace more spread elements of the game while maintaining a focus on being able to run the ball at critical moments of the game and in critical parts of the field, especially the red zone.

At Purdue, Chaney was known for wide-open offenses, but he also came to understand the need to find that balance he’s finally achieved and learned pro-style concepts in the NFL that he applied under Lane Kiffin at Tennessee.

One might say that they approached the same beliefs from the opposite directions.

The result is an offense that primarily utilizes 11 personnel and sometimes looks like a Big 12 offense with run-pass options to produce the nation’s No. 7 rushing attack and No. 4 passing attack.

Chaney features spread and bunch formations to get his talented players in space or create leverage, but also has more run-heavy sub packages like the one featuring former five-star quarterback Justin Fields. The dual-threat freshman who was ranked No. 2 nationally before scoring seven red-zone touchdowns for the Bulldogs through the first 13 games of his career. As with all things Georgia, he’s achieved a near-perfect split — four touchdowns rushing and three touchdowns passing.

Ultimately, this is an SEC offense run by Smart, so it does have an emphasis on the run, but that doesn’t define it.

“Thirty-three percent of SEC games, we’re going to have to be able to run the ball. So that toughness and that mentality has to be there,” Smart said in 2017.

“But we all know the spread element has taken over college football, and being able to make looser plays, and making it harder on defenses to defend is much better,” Smart said. “Between those two things you want to have balance. You want to get your football players the football. Who are the best guys with the ball in their hands? Who are the best blockers in space to get those guys the ball?”

Those latter sentiments sound decidedly like the philosophies employed by adherents of spread offenses.

So Georgia doesn’t run an offense that resembles Saban’s more older, pro-style attacks at Alabama. It isn’t just predicated on running the football and then taking play-action shots off the running game, though those concepts are still important. It’s not an offense that will force Texas to put a second defensive tackle onto the field with heavy personnel packages on standard downs.

Remember that whole balance thing?

The Georgia offense features one of the nation’s best running backs in sophomore D’Andre Swift, the No. 3 quarterback in passer rating in sophomore Jake Fromm, the nation’s No. 7 offensive line in line yards, a talented wide receiver corps, and a productive, athletic pass catcher at tight end in junior Isaac Nauta.

To drive home this point again — the problem with defending the Bulldogs is that Chaney’s offense is extremely efficient and explosive in the running and passing games, nationally elite on third downs, and elite at protecting the football.

In the Sugar Bowl, then, Texas won’t just have to stop Swift, it will face the unenviable task of making one of the nation’s most productive and balanced offenses one-dimensional enough to get off the field on third down and put Fromm into making rare mistakes.

Four teams have held Georgia under 36 percent on third downs and LSU forced four turnovers, including two interceptions of Fromm, but the offense has been remarkably consistent — games against Missouri and LSU were the only ones this season that feature an offensive percentile performance under 78 percent.

The further bad news? The Longhorns aren’t nicknamed the Tigers. Because the fact is, Smart and Chaney have forged an offense nearly bullet-proof enough to make evaluations of mascots seem like a credible way to analyze the minute weaknesses that show up in the numbers.

Ultimate balance. Elite consistency.