ATHENS — In the hopes and minds of Georgia’s offensive linemen, this was going to be the year they became known as one of the best lines in college football. Instead, things have gotten so bad that the coaches have essentially blown up the lineup.
Greg Pyke, a second-team All-SEC right guard last year, has been benched. Three other starters who kept their jobs have switched to different spots.
One of them, right tackle-turned-left guard Kolton Houston, summed things up after Wednesday’s practice.
“We’re not blind to the facts. We haven’t been playing good recently,” Houston said. “So the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. So we’ll try to get something new going.”
There’s been plenty of blame going around for the offensive woes, most aimed at offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and the quarterbacks. But Houston aimed it elsewhere: His unit.
“I pretty much take it all on ourselves. It’s hard to win a game when you can’t rush for more than 40 yards in a game,” Houston said.
It was actually 69 yards against Florida. But yes, that’s not much more. Georgia also had just 120 rushing yards against Missouri, 165 at Tennessee and 193 against Alabama.
Georgia ranks 35th nationally in rushing offense, down 23 spots from last year. It hasn’t helped to lose Nick Chubb to a season-ending injury at Tennessee. But the offensive line wasn’t getting a great push before that, and certainly hasn’t opened many holes lately for Sony Michel and the other tailbacks.
Houston’s move may seem drastic, but he actually played left guard at some points during the 2013 season. He worked at all five positions in practice that season and even some last year. John Theus, now at right tackle after playing left tackle the last year-and-a-half, started on the right side in 2012 and 2013. And Isaiah Wynn, who had been at left guard, played his new spot, left tackle, in high school.
“It’s not just throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing if it’s cooked,” Houston said. “It’s planned out. We’ll see how it goes.”
The team did try this starting five combination during the bye week, but decided to stick with its lineup for one more week. But the performance at Florida caused the coaches to try something. Center Brandon Kublanow is the only starter remaining in the same spot, with sophomore Dyshon Sims inserted at right guard in Pyke’s place.
Richt said a big part of the offensive line changes was “creating competition.” Not only had Georgia used the same lineup for every game this year, but three players (Theus, Houston and Pyke) started every game at those same spots last year.
“If you’ve got five guys in there and they don’t think anybody’s threatening their spot, sometimes they can get complacent,” Richt said. “We all know competition sharpens people’s focus. And that’s what we’re trying to do, create some real-life competition, and not pretend like it.”
But Houston disagreed with the idea that complacency led to the line’s struggles this year. They worked hard in the offseason and preseason, he insisted. Things just haven’t gone well this year, Houston said, but there’s still time to leave a better impression.
“I wanna win out. And I wanna win these next five ballgames. And I don’t want my sixth year to be just some crap, basically. I want to leave this place on a good note,” Houston said. “I’m taking it on myself, and John is too. We’ve gotta get this ball rolling again, and finish strong.”