Georgia’s O-line will have hands full with LSU’s Harold Perkins

Georgia QB Stetson Bennett and the offensive line will likely face a strong challenge from LSU defensive lineman Harold Perkins Jr. in Saturday's SEC Championship game. (AJC file photo)

Credit: AJC file photo

Credit: AJC file photo

Georgia QB Stetson Bennett and the offensive line will likely face a strong challenge from LSU defensive lineman Harold Perkins Jr. in Saturday's SEC Championship game. (AJC file photo)

ATHENS – Georgia’s offensive line hasn’t allowed quarterback Stetson Bennett to be sacked for the last five games. If the Bulldogs keep that streak going through Saturday’s game against LSU, chances are high that they’ll leave Mercedes-Benz Stadium holding the SEC Championship trophy.

But the Bulldogs will face a formidable LSU sack duo of true freshman Harold Perkins Jr. and BJ Ojulari, the younger brother of former UGA defender Azeez Ojulari. Ojulari is second among the Tigers’ defenders with 5.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hurries.

Perkins is the team leader and most recognizable force on the line, and here’s what Arkansas coach Sam Pittman had to say after Perkins sacked quarterback K.J. Jefferson four times two weeks ago in Fayetteville.

“Perkins is a beast,” Pittman said. “He’s fast. He spies. He got a couple of sacks on us spying the quarterback. Our quarterback’s fast, too, but he ran him down.”

Perkins’ early success validates with his recruiting profile. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound athlete from Cypress, Texas, was a consensus 5-star prospect. Originally hailing from New Orleans, it came as no surprise that he’d end up at LSU, through Texas A&M was among the competitors that gave him a good shot.

Georgia was also aware of Perkins, but could never make any inroads.

“We were aware of him, evaluated him,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Sunday. “He was probably one of the most talented linebackers coming out that season on tape. He’s proven that. He’s extremely explosive, athletic. They do a very good job of utilizing his skill set.”

Like most freshmen, Perkins got off to a slow start. But as the Tigers got deeper into the season, and Perkins became more familiar with defensive coordinator Matt House’s playbook, they started moving him around. By midseason, they were sometimes lining him up at inside linebacker and occasional outside over a slotback in a rover-type role.

Heading into Saturday’s game, Perkins leads the Tigers with 6.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, 10 tackles for loss and 59 tackles overall. He’s at his best in obvious passing-down situations.

“He’s very, very talented,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “But he’s got to bring his traits and talent together. If he brings both of those, he is an elite and special player.”

Texas A&M was able to effectively neutralize LSU’s pass rush simply by running the football. Running back Devon Achane ran for a career-high 215 yards and 2 touchdowns. Perkins had just two tackles and one tackle for loss – and zero sacks -- in that stunning 38-23 upset loss in College Station last week.

Running the football is something that Georgia has done better in recent weeks. The Bulldogs rushed for 268 yards in a 37-14 win over Georgia Tech this past Saturday. That was the second straight game they ran for 200 or more yards and sixth of the season.

Meanwhile, Georgia has been solid if not exemplary on the offensive line this season. That unit has been tabbed a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award, which goes annually to the nation’s top group. Led by tackles Warren McClendon and Broderick Jones, the Bulldogs have allowed only 7 sacks all year. That’s just .58 per game and ties them with Georgia Southern and Washington for second-best in FBS football.

Oregon is first. Like the Ducks, who feature quarterback Bo Nix, the Bulldogs are led by a mobile quarterback in senior Stetson Bennett. But keeping opposing defenses in run-pass conflict is one of Georgia’s primary offensive weapons.

Kelly gives Bennett a lot of credit for the Bulldogs’ offensive success.

“Remarkable. He’s poised,” Kelly said Sunday night. “The confidence on film in terms of what he exudes is amazing. I think he’s, like, 26-3 as a starter. He’s in full command of the offense, full command. That goes to his coaching, his teaching, his preparation obviously.”

Georgia hasn’t faced as prolific a pass rusher as Perkins since they went against Alabama and All-American Will Anderson in the College Football Playoff championship game back in January. Anderson had only four tackles and zero sacks. However, his counterpart on the other side of the line, Dallas Turner, recorded two.

“Different players,” Smart said of Anderson and Perkins. “They use them in different ways. Got a little different defense than what Alabama used. But they’re both explosively quick, powerful and disruptive.”