Kirby Smart explains reasons behind ‘disappointing’ offensive line performance against South Carolina
ATHENS — No team has recruited as well on the offensive line as Georgia has in recent seasons. The Bulldogs have signed a 5-star offensive lineman in each of the last three cycles, including two in the 2018 class. Their best offensive lineman, Andrew Thomas, wasn’t even a 5-star player.
If there’s one position group that could handle a few injuries and reshuffling, you would figure that the offensive line would be able to do it. But on Saturday, that wasn’t the case.
The Bulldogs played eight offensive linemen on Saturday and were constantly moving guys around the offensive line to try and find the right combination. Georgia was never able to do that against South Carolina.
“It’s just disappointment,” Thomas said of the group’s performance on Saturday. “The offensive line, the whole unit just didn’t play the way it needed to and that’s always disappointing,”
While Georgia did rush for 173 yards, it had a season-worst 4.02 yards per attempt. It also gave up a season-high 3.0 sacks in the loss, though Kirby Smart indicated two of those were due to coverage and not because of the protection.
Part of the reason for the sub-standard performance can be chalked up to injuries. Starting left guard Justin Shaffer exited the game with a neck injury that will also keep him out this week as well. Solomon Kindley came in for Shaffer only to exit the game when he suffered another injury to his ankle. Smart indicated Kindley will likely be able to go this weekend but it’s not known how healthy he’ll be.
Smart added that Ben Cleveland is also battling injuries. That all explains why Georgia played three guys at left guard and three guys at right guard on Saturday. And that kind of turnover makes things difficult for the group.
“That kind of turnover throughout one game is pretty tough,” former Georgia All-American Jon Stinchcomb said on Monday’s episode of DawgNation Daily. “That turnover in the front proved to be really problematic. An area of strength and I’m as guilty of this as anyone of saying this Georgia offensive line is elite, and they certainly have to potential to be. But they were not on Saturday.”
Smart made it very clear that the reason for the constant rotation was due solely to the injuries and not ineffective play. Prior to the game, Georgia has consistently been rotating between Cade Mays and Ben Cleveland at that right guard spot, but after the Shaffer and Kindley injuries, Mays moved over to left guard.
Georgia running back D’Andre Swift added that the constant movement of guys on the offensive line can make things tougher for the group.
“I think it affects them,” Swift said. “You practice with a group of guys, every group every rep. Some guys are more comfortable next to other guys, but I’m not an offensive lineman so I can’t really speak to that.”
Swift did finish the game with 113 rushing yards, but he needed a career-high 23 carries to get there. While he’s been able to grind out four and five-yard runs, Georgia didn’t break off many explosive plays in the ground game. Georgia’s longest rush of the day was only 14 yards.
Smart reiterated multiple times that Georgia did an efficient job running the ball and did credit the offensive line there. But the lack of explosive rushing plays makes things harder for the entire offense. The Georgia head coach added that it won’t just be on the offensive line going forward to open up those explosive rushing plays like they did a season ago against Florida, Auburn and Kentucky.
“The biggest thing for our guys will be can they block Kentucky, can they move Kentucky, can they create a movement to create some explosive runs,” Smart said. “Can we block on the perimeter well enough that a 12-yard run is a 50-yard run because we’ve got pretty good backs to do that with. We’ve opened up a lot of 10- to 12-yard runs. We haven’t had the explosives that we need greater than 12.”
Georgia’s offense has a lot of issues to fix right now. It needs more from its wide receivers and Jake Fromm can’t turn the ball over four times a game. But if the offensive line, referred to by many as, “The Great Wall of Georgia,” doesn’t start to gel and play better as a unit, there are going to be a lot more days like Saturday than what we’ve seen in the past.
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