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Georgia's offensive line is coached by Matt Luke.

Super Bowl results highlight one area where Georgia football must improve

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Super 55 highlights the importance of the offensive line for Georgia football

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl on Sunday. Tom Brady won the MVP but he wasn’t the reason the Buccaneers won the game, much less in the manner they did.

The Tampa Bay pass rush shredded the Kansas City offensive line. The Chiefs were without both starting offensive tackles and it clearly showed as Patrick Mahomes was under pressure at a record rate.

Brady, per ESPN Stats and Info, faced the lowest pressure rate of any of the 10 Super Bowls he has now played in.

This game was won and lost on the line of scrimmage, with Tampa Bay clearly getting the best of Kansas City.

While the NFL is a different sport than college football, offensive line play has played an integral role for both champions. Alabama’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top offensive line. It had the Outland Trophy winner in Alex Leatherwood and the Rimington Award winner in Landon Dickerson and that doesn’t even include perhaps its most talented offensive lineman Evan Neal.

If you even want to look back at the Georgia-Alabama game, the Bulldogs picked up their third sack to end an Alabama drive in the third quarter. At that point, it was 24-20 Georgia. Then Alabama kept quarterback Mac Jones clean, and the Crimson Tide ended the game going touchdown, touchdown, touchdown and then a 6-minute drive to end the game.

Georgia finished that game with 3.0 sacks, more than Alabama had in the contest. But Alabama’s offensive line ended up being a difference-maker in that game.

The best two teams under head coach Kirby Smart — 2017 and 2018 — had stellar offensive lines. With Sam Pittman and Matt Luke, Smart has clearly valued having strong offensive line coaches and thus building along the offensive line.

Pittman’s recruiting chops and developmental skills have been well-established. It’s why he’s now the head coach at Arkansas. Luke held onto the recruiting class Pittman put together for the 2020 cycle and then signed a class that includes three prospects in the top 100 of the 2021 recruiting cycle.

He’s clearly doing his best to keep with Pittman on the recruiting aspect.

Related: Class superlatives for the 2021 Georgia signing class

Smart spoke this week about the importance of the offensive line and why Georgia wants to continue to stockpile talent at the position.

“In our league, it’s a line-of-scrimmage league,” Smart told Mike Farrall of Rivals.com. “People say that, and more and more say, ‘well, it’s a skill-player league.’ (But) when you don’t have an opportunity to throw to those skills players, you know … (Alabama quarterback) Mac Jones and JT Daniels, those guys wouldn’t be standing upright if they didn’t have a great offensive line in front of them.”

Related: UGA’s new depth along the offensive line is borderline ridiculous

If Georgia wanted to, it could start an offensive line made up of players who were ranked among the top-40 prospects in their respective recruiting classes. From 2021 signee Amarius Mims to Jamaree Salyer, the Bulldogs clearly have the potential to have one of the top offensive lines in the country.

But that group didn’t play like it in 2020, even after Daniels had been put into the starting lineup. Georgia’s worst two rushing performances came with Daniels under center.

From a pass-protection standpoint, Georgia wasn’t great either. Daniels took a number of hits in games against Mississippi State, Missouri and Cincinnati. It was clear defensive coordinators wanted to rough up Daniels, as he was still working his way back from a knee injury.

As the Super Bowl showed with Mahomes, even the best quarterbacks can look average if they’re under siege. If Georgia wants to have a championship season like the Buccaneers, it needs to have an offensive line that plays more like Alabama’s than the 2020 version.

Georgia does bring back experience on the line, as Salyer, Justin Shaffer, Warren McClendon and Warren Ericson all have seen significant snaps and starting reps. With the way Georgia has recruited, the depth should be in place to where the Bulldogs aren’t stretched like Kansas City was on Sunday night due to injury.

But this group had those aforementioned names against Cincinnati and it didn’t live up to the recruiting pedigree. The group was re-shuffled due to being without Trey Hill and Ben Cleveland, but that doesn’t excuse the performance it had.

Salyer could line up at left tackle in 2021, but he might be better off at left guard. Shaffer showed he could play either guard spot, but he was a step-down from what Cleveland provided. Hill was clearly the better option at center, hence why Georgia continued to play him even with his snapping issues. Ericson must hold off Sedrick Van Pran just to lock down the center spot.

The group was always going to take a step back in 2020 after having to replace Pittman, Andrew Thomas, Isaiah Wilson and Solomon Kindley. Add in no spring practice and it shouldn’t be a surprise that Georgia’s offensive line, like seemingly the rest of the offense, wasn’t up to championship standards.

This spring, much focus will be paid on that left tackle spot. Does Salyer or McClendon takeover? Or will one of Xavier Truss, Broderick Jones or Mims play well enough to get Salyer and McClendon at their better positions?

Offensive line play is rarely sexy or glorified. That hasn’t stopped Smart from stressing its importance, especially in a league as physical as the SEC.

Georgia showed in 2019 that a great offensive line alone can’t win you a title. The Chiefs though showed that poor offensive line play can sink even the best of offenses.

Georgia’s offense has the potential to be great in 2021. Daniels will get a lot of the credit if things go well. For him to play at the level he needs to, the offensive line to improve from 2020 and protect at a championship level.

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