For Georgia, it’s all about the line

semerson@macon.comNovember 28, 2012 

ATHENS -- The voices of Will Friend, Georgia’s offensive line coach, and Dan Inman, his graduate assistant, always carry the loudest over the Georgia practice field. A description of what can be heard cannot be provided here, because it usually isn’t printable.

It was that way before the season. It’s that way now.

Entering this season, the offensive front was perhaps the biggest concern for the Bulldogs. And it still is as they prepare for the most meaningful game the program has had in 30 years.

The memory of what happened at South Carolina still hangs over this offensive line: swarms of defenders hitting the backfield, quarterback Aaron Murray and his skill players never having a chance. It was the major reason for Georgia’s lone loss was so lopsided.

Now here comes Alabama with the nation’s best defense.

“I think that we are really trying to realize that there’s always gonna be a challenge for us,” guard Chris Burnette said. “The beginning of the season, we’ve always kind of been the question mark. We’ve realized that, and we kind of take that as a chip on our shoulder, and make sure that hey, when we go out there we’re on the top of our game so people don’t blame us.”

Head coach Mark Richt was asked after Wednesday’s practice if his line is a liability heading into the game.

“A liability?” Richt said, taken aback. “Well I wouldn’t say they were a liability. I think they’ll have a great challenge. But if I would say they were a liability, we’d definitely be in trouble.”

Richt then expressed optimism that the linemen would know what to do and play hard. Then the coach was asked if he had seen enough to believe there wouldn’t be a repeat of the South Carolina game.

“Well, I don’t even remember what happened in the South Carolina game,” Richt said. “I know we had some edge issues. I think everybody had trouble with Jadeveon Clowney, don’t you? That other cat, No. 98, that big tall joker. (Devin Taylor). I think everybody’s had trouble with those guys.”

Then Richt added hopefully, about the line and freshman right tackle John Theus.

“We’re probably a little better at blocking than we were then. Theus is getting there. He’s got a ways to go but I think he’s getting there,” he said.

Georgia coaches have hinted that the best thing for the linemen might be to have short memories. If a sack happens, let it go.

That wasn’t the case at South Carolina, according to Burnette.

“I think sometimes in that game, when we had one bad play, we kind of dwelt on it for the next play,” Burnette said. “And it affected that next play. It kind of (was) a snowball effect. I think the one thing we’ve learned is if you screw up or you do well, you’ve gotta let that play be behind you.”

Alabama’s defensive specialty isn’t actually the pass rush. The Crimson Tide have 30 sacks this year, fourth in the SEC and less than the amount Georgia has allowed this year. There also isn’t one single prolific sack specialist, with Adrian Hubbard leading the team with just five sacks.

But the Tide can still apply pressure, which is part of the reason it has been so good defensively.

Gary Danielson, who will call the game for CBS, said the competition between Alabama’s pass rush and Georgia’s offensive line will be the key to the game.

“Alabama is not a great pass-rushing team. ... They have to kind of do it as a group. But that’s kind of the worst thing Georgia does, is pass protect,” Danielson said. “So who wins that kind of left-handed dribble contest will probably be the story of the game.”

The irony in the offensive line being so key to this game is that it is coached by an Alabama grad. Friend was a four-year starter at guard for the Crimson Tide from 1994-97. He was even named to Alabama’s Team of the Decade. And he played in two SEC championship games, missing a third because of a knee injury.

“The University of Alabama was good to me,” Friend said. “In coaching, I’ve been fortunate to be at two places, as a player (at Alabama) and then a grad assistant (at Georgia). ... I’ve been lucky. But that doesn’t have anything to do with this game.”

How his players block, however, will have a huge impact. Perhaps the biggest.

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