ATHENS – Two years ago, Hutson Mason was entering his first and only full year as Georgia’s starting quarterback. As the new captain of the offense, Mason’s head was swimming with information he had to process and act on, whether it was at practice, team meetings, or before the snap in a real game.
But Mason had some valuable help: David Andrews, a senior center and third-year starter.
“He had seen everything in the book,” Mason recalled this week. “He had seen every blitz we could possibly see. Every stunt. Every twist. That was really awesome for me.”
That bodes well this year for Georgia, and whoever ends up quarterback, but especially if it’s freshman Jacob Eason or junior Brice Ramsey, who has never made a college start.
The starting center will be Brandon Kublanow, a senior and third-year starter, just like Andrews was. (Though Kublanow started at guard as a sophomore.) And there are other similarities.
“They both have the same qualities,” junior offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn said. “They’re both real vocal. David, I know for me when I came in he took me under his wing. Now I see Kublanow doing the same thing to the freshmen, taking them under his wing and teaching them.”
Recent history, and beyond, shows that a senior center is critical to the success of a quarterback and the offense as a whole:
- Two years ago, with Andrews a senior, Mason and a strong offense (30th nationally, fourth in the SEC) helped Georgia to a 10-3 record.
- In 2011, senior center Ben Jones was the emotional leader of the offense, maybe even the team, as the Bulldogs won the SEC East for the first time in six years. Then-sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray was the second-leading passer in the SEC that year, throwing 35 touchdown passes.
- Senior Fernando Velasco was the center in 2007 when Georgia, behind sophomore quarterback Matt Stafford, went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl. It was Velasco’s first year as the center but he had started at guard the previous year.
- Georgia’s last two SEC championship teams also had senior centers: Russ Tanner and Ryan Schnetzer were co-starters in 2005, and Ian Knight started every game in 2002.
When Mason was Georgia’s quarterback, then-offensive coordinator Mike Bobo had a complex offense and put a lot on centers and quarterbacks to make checks at the lines and read the blitzes. And it required the quarterback to be on the same page as his offensive line, especially the center.
“You’ve got to have a guy whose intelligence, and has football smarts,” said Mason, who is now working at Georgia State as a quality-control staffer. “Ben Jones was the same way. If you ask David, having that guy ahead of him to pass the torch to him, really helped.”
Two years ago, Kublanow saw first-hand Andrews’ effect, as Kublanow started at left guard. And while Kublanow may come off in interviews as soft-spoken and laid-back, behind the scenes he’s taken on a bigger leadership role, and teammates say has become more vocal during practices and scrimmages.
He’s also used to quarterback uncertainty, having gone through it last year.
“It was the same thing last year. I know how it is,” Kublanow said. “It’s a competition between all of them. Everything works hard for each one. There’s not really a preference.”
Last year Kublanow was still learning the position. He hadn’t even played center during spring; it was only the final week of practice – really the final day – that coaches experimented with him as the center.
This year Kublanow is a lot more comfortable in the role. He was more involved in organizing offseason workouts, is more familiar with the leadership required for the position, and will be the right-hand man for whoever becomes the quarterback. That would be invaluable to the less experienced Eason and Ramsey.
“I can’t speak for the complexity of coach (Jim) Chaney’s gameplans on a week to week basis, but I’m sure if Jacob Eason ends up starting he’s going to have a lot on his plate,” Mason said. “A lot of nerves. I’m sure the coaches are going to try to simplify things and take things off is plate, let him rely on his talent, try not to think too much. ..
“I’m sure the coaches have looked at that, and said: Especially if we’re going to have a young guy at quarterback, how great it is to have Kublanow there to help.”