ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart had some concerns about the Bulldogs’ offensive line even before starting right tackle Isaiah Wilson suffered a lower body injury in Wednesday’s practice.
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Georgia rushed for 325 yards in a 30-6 win over Vanderbilt last Saturday in Nashville, but quarterback Jake Fromm took more hits than Smart would have liked to have seen.
“We’ve got to protect the quarterback better,” Smart said on the weekly SEC teleconference on Wednesday. “We took some shots on our quarterback that were unnecessary.”
The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs (1-0) play host to FCS Murray State (1-0) at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. The Racers aren’t expected to pose much of a threat, but their coach said he told his team to prepare for Georgia as though it’s a fight.
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Fromm was hit less than any SEC starting quarterback last season according to advanced metrics, but Coach Derek Mason’s Commodores got to him with four quarterback hurries and knockdowns.
Georgia is deep and experienced at most positions. But quarterback is not one of them after 2018 backup Justin Fields transferred to Ohio State. The season before, Jacob Eason transferred to Washington.
Former walk-on and junior college transfer Stetson Bennett is Fromm’s backup. UGA added another walk-on, Nathan Priestley, last summer after midterm enrollee D’Wan Mathis underwent emergency brain surgery in May.
Mathis has been back practicing with the team but he has not been cleared for contact and his return to game action remains uncertain.
Smart attributed the protection issues against Vanderbilt to poor communication, though it had nothing to do with crowd noise.
Georgia fans made up approximately 75 percent of the crowd at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville.
“We had some ill-advised communication and busts that are not indicative of an offensive line that’s played so many games and starts as these guys,” Smart said. “I think the guys played hard and physical, but we got to play smarter and protect better.”
The Bulldogs’ offensive line has been much celebrated in the preseason, but it failed to live up to the hype in two short-yardage situations at Vanderbilt.
Georgia tailback D’Andre Swift was dropped for a 3-yard loss on a fourth-and-1, and then Brian Herrien was stopped short on a third-and-1.
Smart wasn’t about to make any excuses, pointing out earlier in the week that center Trey Hill got beat when Herrien was denied.
“The short-yardage deal the guy got up under him and beat him, but he beat that guy earlier in the game,” Smart said. “We ran the same play earlier in the game and got a first (down). So, if you look at it and analyze it, the exact same play was run in the exact same situation and it worked once and didn’t work once.
“It really boils down to execution, making sure that each guy does his job — that you control the line of scrimmage, that you give yourself a chance to be successful. We are always trying to improve in that.”
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