The No. 4 Bulldogs’ offensive line, which started three freshmen throughout the season, began to grow up with two minutes, 43 seconds left to go in the Vanderbilt game on Oct.13. That’s when a Commodore fumble gave Georgia the ball at its own 8-yard line in a tie game.
“We took it and marched it down the field on a couple big runs, and, after that, the first drive of the Florida game, we ran it every play,” freshman guard Chris Davis said. “That really made a statement right there. We got the spark, and we built a flame off of it.”
Those two drives were separated by two weeks thanks to an open date in between, but they are one item in Davis’ memory. The drives totaled 102 yards on 19 plays. Sixteen of those plays were rushes, and nothing gets an offensive line going like running the football, senior tackleChester Adams said.
“To be able to run the ball against a good defense like Florida was a good indicator that guys were coming along,” Adams said, “that guys were maturing and getting stronger.”
Head coach Mark Richt had not pinpointed those two drives as the turning point but thinks it makes sense, he said. (Offensive line coach Stacy Searels has refused to speak to members of the print media or allow any of his true freshmen offensive linemen to speak to the media all season.)
“I could see where if you look back those were really big and crucial series,” Richt said. “It helped define what those guys were about. I’m sure they got a lot of confidence out of that.”
The Bulldogs averaged 5.3 yards per play before the last drive against Vanderbilt and have averaged 6.1 since. They have averaged 402 yards and 37.2 points in their last five games.
In what are considered the two best statistical indicators of offensive line play – rushing yards and sacks allowed – Georgia finished fourth in the SEC. The Bulldogs rushed for 178.8 yards per game and allowed 15 sacks.
Chalk some of that up to lessons learned in 2003, when Richt refused to bend to the realities of a young offensive line that eventually gave up 47 sacks.
“Our coaches have done a very nice job of doing things that would protect a true freshmen left tackle or any of those guys for that matter,” Richt said.
This year’s offense, under coordinator Mike Bobo, has made liberal use of screen passes and zone-blocking schemes, which simplify life for an offensive lineman.
“In the spring our motto was, ‘Fake it till we make it,’” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “I think they have (made it). They are doing a great job, and we are able to do pretty much everything we want to do now.”
The improvement can be credited to those two mid-season drives and the change in attitude that resulted from them, Davis said.
“We sat down and said, we don’t want people watching our film and saying, ‘Look at those sissies,’” he said. “We decided we needed to get tough. We’re not tough enough yet. We’re not strong enough yet. It’s something we have to continually work on, but I think we’ve gradually improved.”
Their coach agrees.
“I’m not saying we’re knocking (defenders) down every play,” Richt said, “but there are times we have been knocking them all down."