By Ryan Black
For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATHENS — Georgia was thoroughly beaten in every sense in its 35-7 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 6. As coach Mark Richt put it in his postgame press conference, the Gamecocks “whipped” his team.
No unit on the Bulldogs was more exposed in that game than the offensive line. The Gamecocks’ talented defensive line had its way for the duration, frustrating, flummoxing and fencing in what had been a high-powered Bulldogs’ offense. The holes for true freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were plugged, protection for quarterback Aaron Murray was spotty at best, and the points, which came in abundance in the first five games, almost didn’t come at all. The Bulldogs scored a touchdown with 1:55 remaining to avoid their first shutout since 1995.
“Anytime you play a game and you don’t have the success that you hope for, especially when we were rolling right along with running the ball and protecting well enough to put some good numbers up offensively, it’s disappointing,” Richt said. “Then they (the offensive line) ran into a greater challenge and didn’t have as much success, so they had to look in the mirror.”
But the offensive line has a chance to redeem itself Saturday when it takes on Florida’s front four. The Gators feature a pair of stud tackles in Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter and boast depth on the edges as well, led by senior Lerentee McCray, who sees time at both defensive end and linebacker. Like the Gamecocks, the Gators’ defense is formidable, allowing only 12.1 points per game (seventh in Division I FBS) and giving up just 282 yards per contest (fourth in Division I ).
Georgia’s linemen hope to use the South Carolina defeat to their benefit Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla.
“We’ve had (missed assignments) every game, and they hadn’t really hurt us that bad,” center David Andrews said. “Against [South Carolina], they hurt us bad. You can’t have those against a great defense like that.”
Senior right guard Chris Burnette said the linemen didn’t do a good job relaying information to each other.
“Playing in an atmosphere like that makes it really hard to communicate,” he said. “It helped us realize that regardless of what the exterior situation is, we’ve got to focus on trying to let the guys next to us know exactly what we need to be doing.”
Despite its subpar play against South Carolina, true freshman right tackle John Theus said the line’s confidence didn’t suffer. It just meant the mistakes they made were easier to notice.
“Any game, whether you win or lose, there is stuff to learn from,” he said. “Some games you have more to learn from than others, and we definitely had a lot to learn from the (South Carolina) game.”
After a dismal showing on a national stage against the Gamecocks, Burnette said fighting the temptation to institute sweeping changes is difficult. Overcoming that mindset requires taking a forward-thinking outlook.
“One thing we realized is the five games prior to that we did a good job,” he said. “We need to try to focus on what we can do in the [future] rather than trying to harp on the past.”
That future — one of being a dominant force — is what the line works toward every day.
It just takes time.
“I don’t think anyone believed we were an All-American offensive line yet,” Andrews said. “John (Theus) is a freshman, I’ve started limited games, ‘KG’ (Kenarious Gates) is playing a new position, so no one is claiming we’re the best line in the country or anything like that. We just didn’t give time for our skill players to make the plays (against South Carolina), and you can’t do that in this league. We just have to keep working.”