For much of the night, the Georgia offensive line did its job. It opened holes in the running game for the likes of Zamir White, Kendall Milton and James Cook. The Bulldogs averaged 4.8 yards per carry, compared to Alabama’s 3.4 yards.
Georgia also held up well in pass protection. The Bulldogs surrendered only two sacks to the Crimson Tide and gave quarterback Stetson Bennett time to scramble and throw. The Alabama offensive line, which Kirby Smart said is full of NFL players, actually gave up more sacks on the night.
“I think our offensive line has probably played pass-pro pretty well this season, in terms of protecting the quarterback and not losing one-on-one battles,” Smart said. “I don’t feel like we’ve had a lot of mismatches- where we’ve said, that guy is really going to struggle against that guy.”
But good wasn’t good enough for Georgia on Saturday night, as the Bulldogs lost 41-24 to the Crimson Tide. All 24 of those points came in the first half as well.
In the wake of the loss, much of the criticism has focused on Bennett’s play. He had three costly interceptions in the game, after throwing none in wins against Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn.
Related: Georgia coach Kirby Smart puts quarterback Stetson Bennett under the microscope
But in addition to the interceptions, he had at least four balls that were tipped and deflected at the line of scrimmage. One of those deflections at the line of scrimmage led to an Alabama interception on Georgia’s opening drive. With Bennett being an undersized quarterback, it’s reasonable to see why that might happen.
But Smart pushed back on the idea that height is a contributing factor for the tipped passes.
“You look all across the league, in the NFL, in college football, height is not the greatest indicator of batted balls,” Smart said. “The ability to use the pocket is, and a lot of that comes from experience. He’s gaining in the experience category. He’s not elite in experience, he doesn’t have a ton of it.
“We do a lot of drills in practice where we try to simulate the pocket and you have to step up and through it.”
Smart added that pocket presence was one area where Jake Fromm excelled. And Fromm wasn’t some giant, as he measured in at 6-foot-1.
Saturday was Bennett’s third career start and the first time he had done it on the road, though he did play a significant amount of snaps against Arkansas as Georgia’s QB1.
And much like how the offensive line opens holes for the running back, there are also ways they can help keep Bennett’s passes from getting deflected at the line of scrimmage.
“We just gotta stand more firm up front and not have that push back where we’re in Stetson’s lap where the ball is going to get batted down,” offensive lineman Justin Shaffer said.
Shaffer also added that the group has to continue to give Bennett more confidence that he can be the guy to lead the offense as a whole.
“We just have to keep standing in there and give him that confidence that he needs in order to lead the offense and just be the man for the whole offense,” Shaffer said. “To me, I feel like the quarterback needs to take that extra step forward and be that leader and that outspoken person.”
The Alabama game clearly was not Bennett’s best effort. Between the interceptions and tipped passes, that’s just too many times for an opposing defense to get their hands on the football.
The biggest gap in the game between positions wasn’t Alabama’s offensive line vs. Georgia’s. The Bulldogs front five, which has taken some criticism this season whether it be for their play against Arkansas or some errant snaps, held up well on Saturday. It was another step forward for a group that had to replace three NFL draft picks.
The group is gaining in confidence every week after a poor outing. The likes of Shaffer, Jamaree Salyer, Trey Hill, Ben Cleveland and Warren McClendon are now trying to get Bennett to that some point.
“We all just bend his ear trying to give him that confidence and be outspoken, step up be that leader that we need as a quarterback,” Shaffer said.
Georgia OL Justin Shaffer explains how the offensive line can help Stetson Bennett
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