There being little else of consequence to take from Saturday’s sacrificial rite between the hedges, might as well suck it up and get this offensive line column out of the way.
Nobody with any sense spends a lot of time on the O-line, even though they should. Especially in Georgia’s case, because that unit, as much as any subset of this team, represents the fundamental change Kirby Smart has wrought in Athens.
Still, people want to read about the playmakers and the defensive soul-takers, which Georgia has in abundance. What else is there to say about the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-7, 340-pound redshirt freshman tackle Isaiah Wilson other than the thought that he makes up, what, about two Mecole Hardmans?
Saturday’s win over Middling Tennessee State University had all kinds of individual highlight-makers. Together, quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Justin Fields completed 81 percent of their passes and threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions. Hardman returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown and caught a pass for another 5-yard score. Elijah Holyfield had his first career 100-yard rushing game.
As for the score, for those who might want to tattoo it on their chest for posterity, was Georgia 49, Middle Tennessee 7. Or more accurately it was 49 to $1.7 million, that being Middle Tennessee’s fee for acting as a collective crash-test dummy.
The trouble is that there is little quantifiable about what the offensive line does, once you get past the heights and weights on the roster – which increasingly in Georgia’s case appear to be numbers taken from an interstate truck weigh-station.
The work the line does can be apparent on occasion, like the gaping hole created in the middle of the field Saturday for Holyfield’s 66-yard run in the first quarter. “It opened up like the Red Sea,” sang Holyfield, going all Old Testament.
Or the spotless pocket from which Fromm planted himself and pretty much pondered the meaning of life before finding Jeremiah Holloman for a 65-yard reception with four minutes left in the first half.
“Anybody can throw the ball when the pocket is clean. It’s awesome being there, you can read everything like it’s written out in the game plan,” Fromm said.
Sometimes there’s the very public mistake, like the holding call or like the early breakdown Saturday that nearly resulted in a first-quarter safety had Fromm not fumbled out of the end zone under pressure and Georgia’s 6-6 guard Ben Cleveland fallen on the ball like a downed sequoia. Fromm later suggested we put the blame on him, not his protection.
But, if it is performing to specs, the affect of this Georgia line is more subtle than any of that; it’s a cumulative thing. Gradually, like the whining 6-year-old or the salesman on commission, it wants to wear you down. There is nothing sudden or jaw-dropping about what it is here to do. Yet the job is so important that it is an issue of this program’s very identity.
That was one of Smart’s first priorities at Georgia, to add size and depth to the line. To put considerably more lead in the seat of the Bulldogs’ offense to establish a more physical identity and to survive the inevitable injuries that occur in the course of large humans colliding.
And the transformation was almost instant. Who knew the supply of big ol’ country-strong young ’uns was so plentiful?
You want depth? Check out the second-unit offensive line the Bulldogs trotted out in the fourth quarter Saturday: With three freshmen and a sophomore, it averaged a tick above 6-4 and 322 pounds. These are the runts of the litter.
Injuring his ankle against South Carolina, big-time left tackle Andrew Thomas missed Saturday’s game. In Smart’s new world, there is another five-star prospect, freshman Cade Mays, to fill the void.
On Saturday’s two-deep depth chart, count four freshmen – redshirt or otherwise – and three sophomores among those front-line 10. And Smart has only just laid the foundation.
In the now, Georgia has been able to impose its will along the line. But truly, we can’t know how far the Bulldogs have gone in establishing their tough-guy personality until the competition gets burlier.
“We’re definitely on the right track to getting to where we want to be, making ourselves into a run-the-ball-downhill type team. I think we’re on the right path to that,” Cleveland said.
As Fromm put it, “Those guys mash people.”
Might there even come day that Georgia becomes just as famous for sending offensive lineman to the NFL as for supplying running backs and linebackers to the pros. “Offensive Line U” anybody?
“Absolutely,” Cleveland said, “with our size and everything up front – we love being physical, we love hitting people. I think that’s going to come at one point in time.”
Any unit that figures to shape the identity of a team as much as this offensive line may yet shape Georgia’s at least deserves a catchy nickname. Coming up with one, though, is exceptionally difficult.
Offensive lines, who do their work in a sort of witness-protection anonymity, do not lend themselves to nicknames. The Georgia defense has likened itself to wolves and Tasmanian devils. But there is no fierce spirit animal for an offensive line. Not until plow horses become carnivores.
Great offensive line nicknames are rare. The Buffalo Bills who blocked for O.J. Simpson were The Electric Company. The Super Bowl Washington Redskins had The Hogs. But the list trails off from there.
“That Gritty O Line?” center Lamont Gaillard said. “Hit me up later, I might come up with something.”
“I ain’t even thought about it,” Cleveland said.
Hard, isn’t it?
The Guard Dawgs? The Punch Line? AHOP (Athens House of Pancakes)? The Big Men on Campus? The Georgia Power Company? Holes R Us? The Human Landslide?
Let’s all keep noodling on that. No hurry. Might be months before we’ll be drawn again into a discussion of sterling offensive line play.