ATHENS — During the preseason, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo tried to temper the expectations. With as many as eight former starters vying for playing time on the offensive line, conventional wisdom said the Bulldogs would have a dominant front in 2009. Bobo wasn’t so sure.
Four games into the season, Bobo is more pragmatic than pessimistic. While the offensive line has been far from the injury-ravaged hodgepodge of last season, the big men up front have hardly been the anchor for Georgia’s offensive attack.
But rather than undermine the early expectations, right tackle Clint Boling said the line simply hasn’t lived up to its potential.
“We expect that out of ourselves, too, just with the potential that we have the talent that some of these guys have along with the experience,” Boling said. “We all know we can be playing better right now, we’ve just got to go out and do it.”
The Bulldogs’ offense has had productive weeks this season, including posting more than 500 yards of total offense two weeks ago against Arkansas. But last week’s win over Arizona State was a struggle, and it started with problems on the line.
Georgia mustered just 92 yards rushing in the game — a season low –—and failed repeatedly on several short-yardage plays, including a first-and-goal from the 1 and a crucial fourth-and-inches in the fourth quarter.
“There’s been some games they’ve played beautifully, but this game in particular wasn’t one of the best ones of the year,” head coach Mark Richt said. “We’ve just got to get after it and play smart.”
Playing smart has been an issue during the past two games.
Against Arkansas, Georgia was flagged for six false starts and three holding penalties. A week later, things had calmed, but the problems still arose, including back-to-back false start calls at one point.
The lack of focus from the line is particularly disconcerting, given the usually regimented style of line coach Stacy Searels.
“Coach Searels isn’t too happy about it,” Boling said. “It’s something we can easily fixed. It’s just about being more focused. It has nothing to do with not being able to hear or anything, it’s just going out and not focusing.”
Of course, the penalties aren’t the only problem.
Georgia’s running game has yet to get in gear, despite a handful of big plays. Against Arizona State, the line was unable to create holes for Caleb King or Richard Samuel, and Georgia’s offense struggled as a result.
Although the Sun Devils didn’t record a sack, Richt said they rarely blitzed, and one of quarterback Joe Cox’s two interceptions was a result of pressure from the Arizona State front four. Cox had a fumble against Oklahoma State that was a direct result of poor pass protection and another a week later against South Carolina.
While the performances are occasionally dominant, inconsistency has led to too many missed opportunities.
Georgia’s starting line against Arizona State featured Cordy Glenn at left tackle, Vince Vance at right tackle, Ben Jones at center, Justin Anderson at right guard and Boling at right tackle. It was the third different lineup the Bulldogs have used in four games this season.
The shuffling of players wasn’t expected to be a problem, but left tackle Trinton Sturdivant went down with a season-ending knee injury in the opener, and guard Chris Davis continues to experience pain in his hip following offseason surgery.
The changes are eerily reminiscent of last season, when Georgia used nine different starting linemen throughout the season. The difference, however, is that last year’s group continued to produce strong performances, while this season has been far too erratic.
“It’s tough because we were expecting Trinton to play all year, but when he went down, we had to move around,” Boling said. “But that’s something we’re used to after last year.”
The success of last year’s rag-tag crew inspired the hope for this season, and that’s hope that Boling said fans shouldn’t give up just yet.
Clearly the line hasn’t played to its potential, he said, but there are signs that a dominant performance isn’t far off.
“I feel like we’re pretty close,” Boling said. “We’ve obviously still got a lot of work to do, but hopefully each week we’ll be able to get better.”
EXTRA POINTS: CBS picked up the Florida-LSU game Oct. 10 for its 8 p.m. time slot then exercised its 10-day option on four other games, including Georgia’s road game against Tennessee, for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff. ... Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green was named the SEC’s offensive player of the week Monday following an eight-catch, 153-yard touchdown performance, highlighted by a 56-yard touchdown reception and a 36-yard catch on third down to set up a game-winning field goal. ... Sophomore defensive end Justin Houston was named the SEC’s defensive lineman of the week. Houston had four tackles, two for loss and a sack to become the first Bulldogs player to win the award since Charles Johnson in 2006.