After two strong performances to open the season, the Bulldogs’ line struggled to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford against a fearsome South Carolina rush and Georgia’s ground game had difficulty finding room to run in last Saturday’s 14-7 win.
“The offensive line struggled, especially if you compare it to the first two games,” Richt said. “We didn’t block as well in the running game as a unit. We’ve got a ways to go.”
The Bulldogs have rotated linemen in and out of the lineup since left tackle Trinton Sturdivant went down with a season-ending knee injury in fall camp. In its opener, Georgia used four first-time starters on the line then shifted directions again in
Week 2 when right tackle Clint Boling returned from a suspension.
While South Carolina clearly provided the line with its toughest test to date, it also marked the first time the same lineup started together in consecutive weeks. The results, however, weren’t encouraging.
Stafford was sacked four times in the game, and after racking up more than 200 yards on the ground in each of its first two contests, Georgia’s runners tallied half that against the Gamecocks.
“Taking nothing away from South Carolina, that is a great defense,” center Chris Davis said. “They were fast and strong. Sometimes I felt like we were playing about 15 guys out there.”
It was a tough test for a line still working to find its rhythm. The Gamecocks had the top-ranked defense in the SEC entering the game, and the crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium made sure the first road game of the season for the Bulldogs was an unpleasant trip.
“It was a reality check,” left guard Vince Vance said. “I can’t use that as an excuse. Every day in practice we go against D ends and D tackles that are just as good as anybody in the SEC, so that’s not an excuse.”
The struggles on the line didn’t come as a surprise, Richt said, but that doesn’t mean changes won’t be made.
Redshirt freshman Justin Anderson played well in reserve duty against the Gamecocks and could be in line for a start this week against Arizona State. Richt said Anderson has worked at right tackle, and Boling could move to right guard to spell freshman Cordy Glenn. Left tackle Josh Davis and freshman center Ben Jones are also possibilities to crack the starting lineup.
“We’ll probably experiment a little bit,” Richt said. “I’m not exactly sure how it will end up. No one will be playing at a position they’re not experienced at or practiced at, but I’m not sure who’s going to start.”
The Sun Devils have two tough defensive ends in junior Dexter Davis and senior Luis Vasquez, which makes the possibility of giving Anderson his first career start a curious move.
Anderson came into fall camp with sights set on nailing down a starting job, but he struggled at times with consistency and was passed on the depth chart by Glenn. His play during the past few weeks, however, has been encouraging.
“He’s doing well,” Chris Davis said. “He’s making strides to be great, and that’s what he could be if he keeps working hard and keeps a good attitude.”
In fact, Davis said, the younger players have all looked good at times. Even in the face of a hostile crowd against a physical defense, Georgia’s rookie linemen held up well.
“They didn’t have a look in their eye that they were scared, that’s for sure,” Davis said.
While Richt said it’s clear the line could have played better, sometimes it’s the small steps forward that are the most important. Glenn, Anderson and the other young linemen got their first taste of life in the SEC and did enough to win.
It’s all part of the learning curve, Richt said. The same was true of last year’s offensive line, and while the performance wasn’t pretty against South Carolina, the result was much better than it was a year ago.
“I was concerned about the line and the fact that it was going to take a while to grow up, and I was hoping we could win enough games early to be in the race at the end,” Richt said. “That same type of game last year we lost. This year we won it.”