Georgia’s line has paved way to offensive success

Georgia offensive lineman Sedrick Van Pran (63) during the Duke’s Mayo Classic against Clemson at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC., on Saturday Sept. 4, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

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Georgia offensive lineman Sedrick Van Pran (63) during the Duke’s Mayo Classic against Clemson at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC., on Saturday Sept. 4, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

ATHENS – Georgia’s inclusion as a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award went almost unnoticed, coming out as it did in the middle of Thanksgiving week. But there the Bulldogs were, mentioned among 12 other teams in the annual designation of the best offensive lines in college football

Also under consideration this year are Air Force, Arkansas, Appalachian State, Baylor, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Oregon, Oregon State, and Wisconsin.

Whether line coach Matt Luke’s Georgia group will lift that coveted trophy at season’s end is hard to tell at this point. But if part of the selection committee’s criteria is resiliency and versatility, then the Bulldogs should be a slam dunk.

Georgia’s offensive line certainly has played consistently well all season, and that’s good. But take a minute to consider all the adversity the unit has faced since gathering for preseason camp in August:

  • Warren Ericson, set to start at center this season, broke his left (snapping) hand just a week into preseason camp. That immediately sidelined Ericson and elevated redshirt freshman Sedrick Van Pran into the starting role. Van Pran will start his 13th consecutive game Saturday against Alabama in the SEC Championship game.
  • On the second play of the first offensive series of the first game against then-No. 3-ranked Clemson, starting right guard Tate Ratledge, who’d earned the position with a dominating preseason camp, suffered a Lisfranc injury in his right foot. Not only was lost for the game, but for the entire season. Ericson, then standing on the sideline with his injured hand still in a small cast, was sent in to play right guard. The 6-fot-4, 305-pound junior will start his 12th consecutive game Saturday.
  • Georgia’s offensive line was cruising right along heading into Week 10 of the season. Then Jamaree Salyer, the senior left tackle who really wanted to play guard, went down in practice with sprained foot. That was three days before the Missouri game. Salyer didn’t play in that one or the following three. Reports are that he’s been able to practice this week and possibly could play Saturday. But …
  • Broderick Jones has played exceedingly well in Salyer’s absence. A 6-4, 315-pound redshirt freshman, Jones hasn’t been as perfect as Salyer on assignments and technique. But he’s considered an athletic upgrade and was being groomed to step into the spot well before Salyer went down.
  • Meanwhile, Xavier Truss has been working at both left tackle and right guard. At 6-7, 330 pounds, Georgia coaches have been trying to get find a way to get Truss up to speed enough to get him into the lineup. He’s now officially the Bulldogs’ sixth man on the line and is pushing Ericson for time at right guard.

That Georgia’s offense rolls smoothly into Saturday’s game against Alabama with all that mixing and matching going on along the front deserves some kind of commendation.

“That is 100 percent a testament to coach Luke,” Van Pran said Wednesday night. “Coach Luke definitely goes out of his way to make sure that we’re over-prepared for all situations in games. A lot of the times we kind of take it for granted how much he does for us. Coach Luke is awesome. He’s great. He gets us prepared for every look. So, I 100 percent have to give that credit to coach Luke.”

They’ve been known to make some room for Georgia’s skill players as well. The Bulldogs generally don’t get mentioned among the nation’s high-octane offenses, but they’ve been able to burn pretty clean all season.

Bama is ranked No. 5 nationally in scoring at 42.7 points per game. But there sits Georgia right behind them at No. 6 (40.7 ppg).

Alabama gets a lot of notice for its passing game, and it’s impressive at 341.8 yards per game. But the Crimson Tide’s line also has given up 35 sacks this season, or 2.9 per game. They allowed seven to Auburn alone.

That’s nearly as many as the eight Georgia’s given up all season. At .67 per game, that’s No. 2 in the nation, behind only run-oriented Army.

Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett, who has been sacked only six times, is very appreciative.

“That’s why we recruit great offensive linemen, to protect me,” Bennett said when asked about facing Alabama’s exceptional pass rush Saturday. “I know they’ll be ready.”

They have been all year. The Joe Moore committee has taken notice.

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