Georgia football must answer left tackle questions to slow ‘game wrecker’ Will Anderson

Georgia football-Will Anderson-2021 SEC Championship Game
Georgia offensive lineman Broderick Jones (59) during the Bulldogs’ game against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Tony Walsh

For the first time all season, Georgia’s defense won’t’ have the most statistically dominant defender when it takes the field.

That speaks to how much of a monster Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson has become for the Crimson Tide.

As a sophomore, Anderson leads the country in both tackles for loss and sacks. To put those numbers in perspective, Aaron Donald had 28.5 tackles for loss in his senior year at Pitt in 13 games. And for all the stout defenders that have played Saban, no player has ever racked up more sacks in a single season than Anderson’s 14.5.

Even Georgia’s Jordan Davis, who dominates in a far different way on the defensive side of the ball, see what makes Anderson special.

“He’s a great player. He’s a game wrecker, watching his film and just seeing him,” Davis said. “He’s explosive. He’s definitely one of those guys you have to make sure to keep contained.

“It’s great to see him play, but we just have to make sure that we game plan for him and that we protect well upfront on the offensive side and give Stetson (Bennett) some time to throw.”

One man won’t lock up Anderson. For one, he’s too good to have that happen. Alabama also moves Anderson around, using him and his elite talents in a variety of ways.

Georgia will have a plan for Anderson. What that is though likely depends on the health of Jamaree Salyer. Georgia’s starting left tackle has missed the last four games with a foot injury.

Salyer hoped to return against Georgia Tech last week before suffering a setback last week. Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Salyer would practice on Monday but his status is questionable leading up to Saturday’s game.

In the event Salyer can’t play, Broderick Jones will be asked to anchor things for Georgia on the left side of the line. Jones is just a redshirt freshman and Saturday will easily be the biggest game he has played in to date.

But he’s got some experience in difficult environments, starting on the road against Tennessee and playing the entire second half against Auburn.

Jones arrived as a much-hyped 5-star prospect. His length and athleticism should give him as good a chance as anyone in terms of slowing Alabama’s star pass rusher.

“All camp he’s had to go against really good pass rushers,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Every Thursday he gets to go against our guys and compete in two-minute, things like that. If he’s healthy, I feel good about Jamaree being able to play. If he’s not, Broderick (Jones) has played in some big games now, too.”

Teammate Travon Walker can attest to Jones’ growth this season. Playing in every game this year has helped spur the development of Jones.

“Broderick is a guy that’s come on a long way from fall camp. He’s one of those guys that I try to stay on,” Walker said. “I give him my best, he gives me his best. I try to get him better every day so he can be ready for Saturdays.”

Anderson did tell reporters this week he plans on preparing for both Salyer and Jones. That helps explains why he’s become the sport’s most productive pass rusher.

Georgia has given up the second-fewest sacks in the country this season, just 8.0 in 12 games. The offensive line can’t claim all the credit for that though.

Part of the reason for the low sack totals is because of Stetson Bennett’s scrambling ability. It’s a big reason why Smart stuck with him over a less mobile JT Daniels.

Bennett might not be Lamar Jackson, but he’s mobile enough to hurt teams with his legs. He scrambled through the Tennessee defense for a key touchdown in the 41-17 win.

“He’s very fast. He has great feet. He can escape the pocket really well,” Anderson said. “He can move sideline to sideline. I think the biggest thing right now is we have to keep maintaining the pocket. We can’t let him run all over the field and make long drives with his feet.”

The Bulldogs also have some tight ends that are more than capable blockers. Brock Bowers garners much of the attention at the position due to him leading the team in every receiving category.

Darnell Washington and John FitzPatrick are weapons as well for this Georgia offense. While they might lack the receiving upside of Bowers, their larger frames all them to be difference-makers as blockers.

Georgia is going to ask them to be that against Alabama and Anderson. The Crimson Tide have the third-most sacks in the country at 43.0, just ahead of Georgia’s 41.0

“I think Coach (Todd) Hartley has done a tremendous job with them in run blocking,” Smart said. “It’s hard to find tight ends that can block defensive ends in the NFL, but in the SEC. Our guys -- we don’t leave them out on an island often, but they hold up when they have to block in the run game and get movement and read things. They do a tremendous job.”

Alabama’s defense is not as dominant as Georgia’s this season. But Anderson is capable of blowing up drives before they get going. If the Bulldogs want to keep Bryce Young and the Alabama offense off the field, the best thing to do will be to find out how to minimize the impact of Anderson.

How Georgia football goes about slowing Will Anderson

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