ATHENS – Georgia’s offensive line went from the goat in week one to the facilitator in week two, and did so against perhaps the biggest challenge it will face all year.
Facing Jadeveon Clowney and some other very good South Carolina linemen, Georgia cut in half the number of sacks it gave up in week one, created a good push for its tailbacks and played largely mistake-free.
In other words, the front five looked like a completely different line than at Clemson, when it yielded four sacks, committed critical penalties and didn’t open many running holes.
"There were a lot of naysayers,” junior center David Andrews said. “We did some bad things last week but people didn't see good things that we did. So people doubted us and that's where we like to be. We like to be doubted because that's motivation. We didn't change anything different from last week we just played football and we kicked tail."
There was one lineup change this week: Kolton Houston shifted from right tackle to left guard, with John Theus re-entering the lineup at right tackle, where he started every game last year. But Dallas Lee did get snaps at left guard, where he started last week. It wasn't so much personnel changing as just making less mistakes and playing better.
Last week, star tailback Todd Gurley did a lot of the work himself. This week, while he did still do his usual star turn, there were a number of plays up the middle in which the front moved forward, giving Gurley and other tailbacks some extra yards.
"They were good,” Gurley said of his line. “We ran the ball way more this game than we did last game. If you look at the stats we had more yards than Clemson and they did a great job against Clemson too. They just keep improving every day, every day."
When it came to containing Clowney – who did have one sack – it was more than a one-man show. Left tackle Kenarious Gates played well before suffering an ankle injury, and Mark Beard also played well in replacing him. But fullback Quayvon Hicks, tight end Arthur Lynch and the tailbacks also chipped in.
"We protected pretty well for the most part,” head coach Mark Richt said. “I think there were two sacks, but that's gonna happen when you throw a few times. And then again, to finish the way we did, and you have to have the tight end position, you have to have the fullback position, those guys are great blockers. And even the tailbacks when it comes to pass protection there were some blitzes they picked up beautifully."
The decision to try for an onside kick was generated much earlier in the week.
Georgia assistant coach Kirk Olivadotti, who handles the kickoff unit, noticed on film that South Carolina would be vulnerable to it. So he came to Richt last Sunday night and showed Richt, who agreed to try it.
They did so after taking a 7-3 lead, and indeed it caught the Gamecocks off guard. Blake Sailors made the recovery.
"(OIivadotti) just felt like they were too wide on the front line, they were too far apart from each other,” Richt said. “There was just a crease, or whatever you wanna say it, a gap that was too big. And we were able to get blockers on there with two guys, and a kicker and another guy to go get the ball. ... It was executed beautifully. Anytime you can steal a possession from the other team it's huge, and it was a great momentum play for us."
This and that Georgia is only the fourth team in the past 20 years to start the season by facing two top-10 teams – and it’s the only one of the four to win one of those games. The other three (Syracuse in 2001, Louisiana Tech in 1999 and New Mexico State in 1994) all went 0-2.
No. 6 South Carolina is the highest-ranked team Georgia has beaten in Athens since 1991. That year it was Clemson, which was also ranked No. 6. Since then, Georgia was 1-6 against top-10 teams at Sanford Stadium, the lone victory coming over No. 10 Tennessee in 2002.
Injury updates Richt said he had not yet spoken with head athletic trainer Ron Courson, so he didn’t have any updates on Gates or tailback Keith Marshall.
Gates had an ankle injury, while Marshall appeared to have a bruised knee. Georgia has a bye week, followed by North Texas, so if the injuries aren’t serious there will be time to let them heal up.