Let’s be real here; it’s rare that the University of Georgia steps onto any field and has to worry about making up for any kind of talent discrepancy. In fact, at least during head coach Mark Richt’s tenure, it has never happened.
UGA is always as talented as the most talented team you can think of — which, I’m sure, usually involves a couple of teams out of Baton Rouge, La., and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Remember the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championship Game?
You know, the instant classic game that came down to one possession in which Georgia ended up a few yards short of a BCS Championship Game appearance?
For all the press that Alabama’s future NFL personnel received, it’s hard to gloss over the fact that Georgia was every bit as talented — if not more.
As it pertains to both rushing attacks, Alabama was clearly the most celebrated as it not only had two 1,000-yard rushers in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, it also boasted a starting offensive line with four future draft picks: Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Barrett Jones and Cyrus Kouandjio.
While it was arguable that Georgia may have had the best back in the game in Todd Gurley, you would’ve been hard-pressed to convince any analyst that it had draftable linemen despite his 1,385 yards worth of production. (Backup Keith Marshall pitched in with 759 yards of his own.)
But what Georgia did have, which has been a common theme during Richt’s tenure, was good run concepts coming from some of the better coaches in the country.
Fast forward a few seasons, while highly regarded offensive line coach Will Friend has moved on to become the offensive coordinator to long-time UGA OC Mike Bobo at Colorado State University, nothing has changed.
Georgia still has, perhaps, the best running back in the entire country, Nick Chubb, and a band of no-name offensive linemen who are about to wreck shop on the rest of the conference.
And it just may find itself right back in the same title game.
Scheme Execution Vs. Talent
When many mention the most talented run games in the conference, as it pertains to offensive line play, it usually takes a few teams before people remember the ‘Dawgs are perennially one of the best doing it in the entire country.
And those people usually remember off the strength of the running back position: Thomas Brown, Danny Ware, Kregg Lumpkin, Knowshon Moreno, Gurley and Chubb. The truth is, Georgia has lacked premier talent along the OL during the Richt era.
While some have gone on to make names for themselves — most notably Cordy Glenn (second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft), Clint Boling (fourth round), Ben Jones (fourth round) and Fernando Velasco (undrafted) — the lack of stars at the next level leaves me befuddled. (I always wanted to say that since I heard it in a Dave Matthews Band song when I was younger.)
So how do the ‘Dawgs achieve such ferocious results on the ground?
I’m glad you asked; it’s a combination of scheme and sound coaching. It’s no secret that Richt operates a traditional pro-style attack based in gap- and man-blocking principles. Linemen have to be versed in all kinds of blocking: down blocks, traps, reach blocks and combos (among others).
Not to mention that new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, much like Bobo did, loves to implement inside- and outside zone-runs.
Friend, for my money, was the most underrated line coach in existence as he clearly got the most out of his personnel, but the same could’ve been said for the previous line coach Stacy Searels who originally got the ball rolling with his physical brand of coaching. And if you’re hoping for a dip in production under new coach Rob Sale, think again, my friend.
Here’s an example of just how effective the line can be — results withstanding.
This particular play stood out to me in last season’s Belk Bowl: Chubb was stopped for no-gain on a perfectly executed power-blocking play.
Just look at the execution by the OL in the above sequence: double at the point of attack by the front-side guard and center, a ferocious lead block by the pulling opposite-side guard with a seal from the right tackle and a kick-out block by the tight end.
It goes to show you how much football is about split-second decisions as Chubb didn’t follow the lead and bounced it for minimal gain; he may have scored had he followed the design of the play.
Georgia dominates on the ground with precise execution from all parties involved. Even with the current crop of linemen, who may pilot the SEC’s most productive ground game, it’s hard to spot a top-flight talent in the group.
These guys just simply get the job done.
- John Theus (6’6″, 303 lbs) LT: Theus is a very talented exterior lineman who mans the primary spot on UGA’s line. He’s shown the ability to anchor against power-rush moves despite barely being over 300 pounds. Blocking edge-rushers who can adequately run the arc is a sticking point with him, but he has shown the ability to get out in his kick-step phase to combat his lack of foot quickness. Theus best projects to RT or G in the NFL; he’s money with gap- and man-blocking principles.
- Brandon Kublanow (6’3″, 282 lbs) LG: Kublanow, a junior, is as rock-steady as it gets. His technique is impeccable and he’s stronger than one might think from a lineman who is a bit undersized for the position, but he most represents the “Bulldog” mentality that it takes to be an extremely effective player in the trenches. When long-time center David Andrews moved on, I wondered if the staff would attempt to move Kublanow into his spot as he seems like he would best fit the position.
Kublanow, No. 54, had a fantastic spring block on this Draw play (excuse the mislabeling of Theus).
- Isaiah Wynn (6’2″, 278 lbs) C: Wynn, a highly touted 4-star recruit from Florida in 2014, has huge shoes to fill as it appears he’s the clubhouse leader to replace Andrews. The departed starter went undrafted in this past NFL draft, mostly due to his lack of measureables at 6’2″, 295 pounds, but did sign on with the world champion New England Patriots. Considering Andrews was named team MVP and excelled at making line calls, Wynn better be prepared to be versed in all aspects of line play; Houston Texans center Ben Jones was the long-time starter before Andrews.
- Greg Pyke (6’6″, 313 lbs) RG: Pyke is the most talented player on the line and is, perhaps, its best prospect for the NFL level. However, he doesn’t possess the type of prerequisite athleticism we’ve seen from premier guard prospects Jonathan Cooper (Arizona Cardinals) and Chance Warmack (Tennessee Titans), but he’s a ferocious blocker who excels in the Power game where he’s required to perform open- and play-side pulls and leads. He’s exciting to watch on tape as you know he understands blocking angles and has great mechanics. Expect Pyke to be on the radar for a ton of all-conference first-team selections as he’s just that great of a player in this scheme.
Check out Pyke’s instincts on this open-side pull where he realized the defensive line was washed down by down blocks and he proceeded to peel back and pick up an oncoming strong safety.
- Kolton Houston (6’5″ 285 lbs) RT: Houston is another solid all-around player who is a bit undersized. Thankfully, he was granted a sixth-year of eligibility after a weird snafu which saw him reportedly test positive for a banned substance prior to his enrollment and subsequently put him in limbo to start his career for a few seasons. I always thought Houston would make a great interior lineman as he plays great in close quarters; he does well in space and has long arms that he uses to get extension.
Georgia has a major commitment to winning the line of scrimmage on offense, which will only grow stronger under Coach Schotty’s brand of offensive football. While the plethora of talented RBs will receive the lion’s share of the praise, the no-name OL will continue to be the lynchpin of the entire operation.
Watch out for composite 2016 5-star OT Ben Cleveland as he has the talent to step right in for either Houston or Theus at an exterior spot.
Just more talent for the rest of the conference to worry about.