By Chip Towers/The Atlanta Journal -Constitution
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When it comes to talking to reporters, Georgia’s Daijun Edwards is a man of few words. Meanwhile, Kendall Milton is a man of many. It’s just another thing that makes them a great fit.
That was apparent again when each player entertained questions at the end of a mid-week practice for Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt (noon, CBS). One’s verbosity and the other’s brevity was well-illustrated when each player was asked about finally being together again in Georgia’s backfield.
“I feel great about it,” Milton said, with a wide grin. “You know, me and Daijun, we came in as freshmen together. We were those young guys on third team working together. Just to be at this point now where, you know, we’re both healthy and both at a point to where we can both be on the field together, I’m excited.”
Milton actually continued from there.
Edwards’ response to the same question about 15 minutes later?
“I feel like it was big, just him being back, that physical nature he brings. It was good,” the senior from Moultrie said succinctly.
While their personalities clearly differ off the field, their playing styles mesh beautifully on it. Edwards and Milton finally were together for the first time this season Saturday against Kentucky, and the senior running back duo finally was able to provide the 1-2 punch the Bulldogs always envisioned.
If you haven’t heard, it went well as No. 1-ranked Georgia pummeled the No. 20 Wildcats 51-13.
It’s not really a Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside thing like Georgia has had before, including recently.
It’s more about experience, knowledge, strength and fortitude. Each has taken a long and bumpy path to becoming the Bulldogs’ featured backs. That continued this season as Milton has been sidetracked by hamstring and knee ailments, and Edwards was unable to play until Game 3 because of an MCL sprain.
When Edwards came back, Milton went out. Other backs have been in and out of the rotation as well. Promising sophomore Branson Robinson is out for the season because of a ruptured patellar tendon incurred in preseason camp. Freshman Roderick Robinson won’t make the Vanderbilt trip because of an ankle sprain.
But Saturday, Nos. 2 and 30 both were available, once even lining up together in the backfield. And while they didn’t exactly take over the game – quarterback Carson Beck and his receivers took care of that – their presence made a difference in an offense that cut loose for 608 yards.
“If you’re able to run the ball, you will get play-action shots and have time (to throw),” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “There’s more buy-in to play-action when you’re running the ball well.”
The Bulldogs rushed for 173 yards. The majority of that came from Edwards (54) and Milton (47), who split 17 carries between them. In Georgia’s other two SEC games, against South Carolina and Auburn, Edwards had 20 and 19 carries, respectively.
That’s what the Bulldogs are looking for. At least.
Which brings us to Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt. The temptation will be to see Georgia chuck the ball all over the field again like it did to the tune of 435 yards against Kentucky. The Commodores’ pass defense is even worse.
Vanderbilt is allowing 263.7 yards per game, which ranks 111th of 130 FBS teams.
So, it would be understandable if the Bulldogs chose to move the football that way. But ultimately, Georgia still seeks to be a balanced offense that dominates offensive possession and plays a complementary style that allows its defense to flourish.
As Smart always emphasizes, some of that comes from a controlled, short-passing game that he labels as part of the run game. But it’s only with the threat of an explosive rushing attack that a truly explosive passing game can be manufactured.
So far, at least, that has been missing. Halfway through the regular season, Georgia’s longest run from scrimmage is 37 yards from Milton in the opener against Tennessee-Martin. Robinson has the next longest, at 23 yards. Edwards and Dillon Bell’s longest went for 21.
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That’s not the type of rushing attack that – for a while at least – had Georgia known as RBU. With Edwards and Milton healthy and active, the thought is the Bulldogs can get back to that, at least to some degree.
“I feel like the sky’s the limit, you know?” said Milton, who 1,292 yards over four seasons and a career 6.0 yards per carry average. “Right now we have a lot of different backs between me, Daijun, Cash (Jones), AP (Andrew Paul), everybody. It’s a lot of different types of backs, so I feel like we’ll be able to open up the offense and be able to put different schemes and different plays and things like that.”
Edwards, the Bulldogs’ leading rusher at 78.5 yards per game, will have a lot to say about it on the field. Verbally, not so much.
“I feel like we have really good potential,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep working.”