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Georgia football will count on Andrew Thomas to slow Florida pass rush
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was very frank when speaking about what the Georgia offensive line will be facing this week in Florida’s pass rush.
“They’re going to face the ultimate test,” Smart said. “I mean, these guys are as good as anybody in the country.”
The Gators are first in the SEC in sacks, with 29.0 through the first eight games of the season. The Gators will also be getting back star defensive ends Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard, who both missed the South Carolina game and were hobbled against LSU with ankle injuries.
Georgia’s offensive line, as good as it is, will have its hands full on Saturday. But if this Florida group represents the ultimate test, Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas might be the best test taker in the entire country.
Thomas is regarded as the perhaps top left tackle in all of college football. Both ESPN’s Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. agree Thomas is the top offensive tackle prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft. He was voted to the AP’s Midseason All-American team as one of the two tackles. He’s started all but one game for Georgia since he arrived on campus as a freshman in 2017. In that same span, Georgia has led the league in rushing in each of the past three seasons.
To this point in 2019, Georgia has given up just 4.0 sacks, the fewest in the country. And none of those have been charged to Thomas. If Georgia’s offensive line is in fact “The Great Wall” as it has been dubbed, Thomas is the strongest pillar.
But what makes Thomas as great as he is? Georgia’s signed higher-rated prospects than Thomas over the past three seasons. None of those 5-star prospects have been able to play as well as the 6-foot-5 junior from Lithonia, Ga.
Georgia football offensive tackle Andrew Thomas previews Florida game
If you were to ask some of Thomas’ teammates what makes him so special, you’re not just going to get one answer. Quarterback Jake Fromm pointed to his willingness to serve along with his work ethic. Running back D’Andre Swift said it was Thomas’ intelligence as to what has allowed him to become Georgia’s best players.
Smart gave a similar attribution as Swift for Thomas’ success.
“I would say the number one thing is his intelligence. He’s very sharp. He’s very detailed. He has a plan,” Smart said. “You don’t find guys that are his size and speed and athleticism walking the streets, but you also don’t find that combination of intelligence. They know what’s going to happen before it happens.”
Smart added that Thomas is, “a stellar example of what a University of Georgia student-athlete should be.”
A number of elite high school prospects in today’s college football world choose to enroll early. But Thomas wasn’t afforded that opportunity, as he attended one of the top private schools in Atlanta in Pace Academy. He wasn’t able to graduate early and start taking classes at Georgia in January of 2017. He had to enroll over the summer, but that didn’t deter him from making an early impact at Georgia.
Thomas went on to start all 15 games at right tackle for a Georgia team that came within a handful of plays from winning the national championship. He followed that up as a sophomore by filling in seamlessly for Isaiah Wynn at left tackle and earning First Team All-SEC honors in the process.
But intelligence alone doesn’t allow you to dominate on the football field. There are other aspects that factor into Thomas’ excellence.
In his own words, he attributes it to his technique. That means always having good footwork and knowing where to place your hands on opposing defender. Of course, getting your hands on opposing defenders is made a lot easier when your arms are as long as pterodactyl wings.
To give you an idea of Thomas’ wingspan and length, try to touch your knee caps while standing straight up. Hard, right? Your fingertips probably come down to the middle of your thighs. Thomas is actually able to do that. And again, he’s 6-foot-5.
Thomas isn’t the mauler or violent player like Cade Mays is for Georgia. But using a variety of skills, he’s able to both keep opposing pass rushers at bay and plow through opposing linebackers.
They should call Andrew Thomas “The Neutralizer” pic.twitter.com/FuU8PyCLdI
— Aviation Ax ✈️ (@AXdawgEL) June 27, 2019
Lift off courtesy UGA tackle Andrew Thomas 71 red pic.twitter.com/l9zjmWeYIv
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) September 22, 2019
If there’s one viral highlight of Thomas’, it came against Kentucky in 2018. Thomas spent much of the game facing off against Josh Allen, who led the SEC in sacks last year with 17.0. He was taken with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
But he finished with zero sacks and tackles for loss against Thomas and got straight-up punked on one play.
Andrew Thomas vs Josh Allen — good grief!pic.twitter.com/4e9Lg77KIS
— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) May 27, 2019
Thomas might not flash like Swift or Fromm, but there’s a quiet brilliance in his game. You don’t see him get beat or hear him getting called out by the officials for a penalty. And that’s probably how Thomas likes it, given his personality.
A lot of Thomas’ teammates mention he goes about his business in a quiet manner. Solomon Kindley, who plays next to Thomas on the offensive line, said Thomas rarely celebrates big plays. One time during a film review, Thomas was spotted pumping his arms in celebration and offensive line coach Sam Pittman stopped the tape to go back and watch Thomas celebrate because it was so out of character.
Azeez Ojulari — Thomas’ roommate — said Thomas never talks on the field. After a play, he simply moves on and prepares for the next snap.
Perhaps better than anyone, Ojulari knows the difficulties of going against Thomas. The two face-off constantly, as Ojulari is also Georgia’s best rusher. And going up against Thomas every day in practice has helped make Ojulari a better player for when he goes up against lesser foes in the SEC.
“It’s a good challenge because he’s the best of the best to me,” Ojulari said. “So it’s a great opportunity for me to work on my moves and see what would work because he is the best of the best.”
So if what Smart says about the Florida pass rush is true, and the same goes for Ojulari’s comments about Thomas, Saturday should be a heck of a match-up. And given everything we’ve seen from Thomas to this point, you’d have to think he’s going to ace that test.
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
- Georgia football podcast: Florida WR admits UGA ‘owned us’ last year
- WATCH Jake Fromm: What Georgia fans should – and shouldn’t – expect from offense
- Cover 4 on Georgia football: What is the key area where the Bulldogs must ‘do more’ to beat Florida?
- Georgia offensive line must ‘rise to the occasion’ against sack-happy Florida
- Florida TE Kyle Pitts: The most dangerous Gator matchup for Georgia
- WATCH: Georgia’s Kirby Smart trusts NCAA direction on compensating players for name, image, likeness
- Kirby Smart ‘not really’ concerned with what Brenton Cox might be bringing to Florida
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