The SEC, and southern football in general, is known for its traditions. From tailgates to each fan base’s unique chants to stadium entrances, traditions run deep on Saturdays in the south. The Georgia Bulldogs have an on-field tradition that their opponents wish would come to an end. It seems that no matter the circumstances or roster turnover, each fall the Bulldogs backfield is stacked with elite tailbacks. Despite losing stars Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, the 2018 team should be no different. Junior Elijah Holyfield and sophomore D’Andre Swift will take over next season. Georgia seemingly reloads each season with elite talent at the running back position, a tradition former coach Mark Richt got rolling. It is a trend that continues under head coach Kirby Smart.
Long Line of Tailbacks
The history of great Georgia tailbacks goes back a long way. Frank Sinkwich won the Heisman Trophy all the way back in 1942. The most prominent name is Herschel Walker, who led the Bulldogs to the national title in 1980 before winning his own Heisman Trophy. Since then, names like Robert Edwards, Garrison Hearst, Rodney Hampton, and Terrell Davis have racked up yards and touchdowns in Athens. Each of these players also went on to find success in the NFL after terrorizing SEC defenses. It doesn’t seem to matter when talented tailbacks leave Georgia, because they always seem to have another star just waiting for his turn.
It Takes Two
More recently the Bulldogs have found that having two elite tailbacks works pretty well. The tandems of Knowshon Moreno and Thomas Brown, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and of course Chubb and Michel all made their mark. Those last two pairs were actually all in the same backfield at one time. The running back position has become a production by committee position in both NFL and college. With the exception of Alabama, no other team in the country has been able to stockpile talent and distribute touches like the Bulldogs. Chubb and Michel ended their careers as the most productive rushing tandem in NCAA history. Those two culminated their senior seasons with a trip to the College Football Playoff and an appearance in the national title game. A successful tailback tandem is usually due to unselfish players who put the team first over their own stats. This unselfishness is usually coupled with diverse skill sets that complement each other. The versatility of having a power back and a speedy back allow for offenses to be more diverse. It can give opposing defenses nightmares of how to defend the varied skill sets.
The Next in Line
With Georgia Bulldog legends Sony Michel and Nick Chubb now graduated, it’s time for the next pairing of great tailbacks to emerge. Both Holyfield and Swift have been able to show their talents in limited carries in Athens so far. They will set up as yet another power and speed combo in the Bulldog backfield.
D’Andre Swift came in as a true freshman last season, and was just too good to keep off the field. He had 81 carries, totaling 618 yards and four total touchdowns. Swift is as explosive as any player in the country, as evidenced by his 7.9 yards per carry. He is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. The rising sophomore is also a very good pass catcher, leading all Georgia tailbacks in receptions last season with 17. His season high for carries was ten in a victory over Mississippi State. He had a high of 94 yards on only six carries against Missouri. He also sparked the Bulldogs’ big second half in the SEC Championship Game, with 88 yards.
Elijah Holyfield is the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield. He will bring the power to the Bulldogs backfield in 2018. He totaled 293 yards on 50 carries and scored two rushing touchdowns last season. As more of a power back, Holyfield’s opportunities were limited behind Nick Chubb. Swift was able to see the field more because of his explosiveness and pass catching ability. Holyfield will have the chance to step into the workhorse role this season. His size and strength will allow him to not only handle the physicality of being an SEC running back, but also dish out some punishment of his own.
The Bulldogs are fresh off their first appearance in the College Football Playoff. With the way they are recruiting, their run of success may only be getting started. They were led last season by a freshman quarterback in Jake Fromm. His progression could lead to a more balanced attack in 2018. This should help the passing game become more of an effective weapon. Georgia lost a lot of talent from its dominant defense and will also have to begin life without Chubb and Michel. However, if the offense can become more balanced, this team may be even more dangerous. Both Swift and Holyfield will see their roles increased next season, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Getting production from its tailbacks never seems to be a problem in Athens.