ATHENS -- It was, as John Theus would admit two days later, the roughest night of his football career. The man who used to overmatch opponents in high school and came to college with major hype now found himself frustrated.
Three false starts. A couple sacks of the quarterback that were his fault. The former five-star recruit was now just another freshman, and one whom looked like he needed to be pulled from the game.
But on the sideline, Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend kept it positive.
Coach kept encouraging him: Just go play John, just go play, said David Andrews, another member of the line. The games different (from practice). Theres already enough adversity, you dont wanna have a coach breathing down your neck.
Theus stayed in the game, played better, and was on the field in the end as No. 7 Georgia finished off Missouri 41-20.
It may not have been a good night for Theus, but it didnt cost his team the game.
Its definitely a relief when you win the game. If you dont play your best game and you win the game, it kind of takes it off a little bit, Theus said. Itd be a lot more sour if we lost the game. So yeah, we won the game and I can focus on my mistakes and I can fix them. So it was good in that sense.
Plenty of eyes have been on Theus. He came to campus this summer with expectations, and he lived up to them in preseason camp. He earned the right tackle job, and he became the first Georgia true freshman to start the opener in four years.
The Missouri game was a stumble. The offense struggled for much of the first half, and Theus problems were a big part of them: His three false starts and two sacks allowed were glaring mistakes, not the simple missed blocks that only get noticed on tape by coaches.
But offensive coordinator Mike Bobo didnt come down hard on Theus. An ankle injury that Theus suffered late in the opener prevented him from practicing until Thursday.
My two-evaluation of him is he is a tough kid, mentally and physically tough, Bobo said. He can handle a little bit of adversity and doesnt get shook.
Besides the glaring errors, Theus also had a couple missed blocks and missed assignments. But Bobo was impressed that Theus kept playing hard.
Hes still a baby, Bobo said. So we dont expect him (right now) to go out there and be the dominant guy on the edge like we think he can be in the future. But if he continues to get better, I think he can be an elite player in this league.
Andrews is quick to point out that Theus wasnt alone: Andrews and left tackle Kenarious Gates also had false start penalties. Andrews, a sophomore, is also experiencing a learning curve as a first-year starter.
This year a lot of people had questions about our unit and our offensive line. I still think thats the case at times, Andrews said. We still have to play a lot better. (Quarterback) Aaron (Murray) got hit too many times this game. Thats just something weve gotta work on. We had a lot of missed opportunities in the run game. So its just things like that. But its definitely a relief were not digging ourselves out of a hole right now.
Georgias running game wasnt quite spectacular against Missouri, but it did just enough: The three tailbacks averaged 4.48 yards a carry. Take out Todd Gurleys 44-yard rush, and its three yards a carry.
Richt wondered after the game if some of the false start penalties was because of poor preparation for the crowd noise.
They were shifting a lot late, and we had a couple freshmen especially struggle with it, Richt said, mentioning not just Theus but tailback Todd Gurley. Im not sure we had a loud enough crowd noise in our Thursday practice. We tried to do it on our practice fields, and Im not sure we got enough volume to really simulate what was gonna happen.
But overall, Richt seemed happy with the performance of the line, especially since the end result was the offense put up 41 points (with the final 14 set up by turnovers.)
The bottom line is, we blocked good enough for Murray to get the ball off, Richt said. I dont know if (Missouri) stoned the run, but they did a pretty good job against the run. But when we started throwing and catching, thats when things started to happen.
Theus is using his rough game as a chance to become better.
I know coming from the game there was a lot of stuff Ive gotta work on, Theus said. The false starts. It was a learning experience for me. The sacks. It was a learning experience for me. Take those, look at the film and just try to get better every day.