Georgia faces huge challenge in stopping Shane Ray, Markus Golden
“Here they go again.”
That’s how Georgia head coach Mark Richt chose to describe Missouri’s defensive line just a few days before the two teams square off in a crucial game that could dictate how the winner of the SEC East. And that’s about the best way to describe the Tigers’ vaunted pass rush.
Once again, the Tigers are tremendous in getting consistent pressure on opposing backfields. This season, Missouri is led by two impact defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Ray currently leads the SEC with seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, while Golden isn’t far behind with four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.
“You just kind of turn them loose,” Richt said. “Let them penetrate up the field. They’re almost in a pass rushing mode every snap, and they’ll retrace and take care of the run game second, basically.”
This is a defensive line for Missouri that ranks third in the SEC with 17 sacks and has overpowered offensive lines as good, if not better, than Georgia’s so far this season. Missouri’s had as many as six sacks in one game and even put up for sacks in its last game against a South Carolina offensive line that was considered one of the program’s best lines ever coming into the season.
With such a dominating defensive line, Richt doesn’t necessarily expect his line to shut down Missouri altogether, but rather try and limit the damage.
“I don’t know if anybody can just shut them down,” Richt said. “They’re just very dynamic rushers, and you’re going to have to find a way to give them some help. I will say that [John] Theus and Kolton [Houston] have improved, but they’ve got their work cut out for them.”
“I would definitely say they’re the best defensive line we’ve gone up against,” Houston added.
So far this season, Georgia has been one of the better SEC teams at stopping the pass rush. Laden with a quality mix of experience, the Bulldogs offensive line has allowed just six sacks all season, good for 24th in the nation.
A big reason why Georgia has excelled in pass protection is because of the running game. With running backs like Todd Gurley, Sony Michel and Nick Chub, the Bulldogs are often in very manageable second and third down situations, which often nullifies most opportunities for opposing defense to bring the pass rush.
Houston credits the running game to the improvement the offensive line has seen in pass protection.
“I think it’s a huge credit to our running ability,” Houston said earlier in the week to the media. “When you’re slamming the power down people’s throats, it’s really hard for those guys to get off the ball and get vertical because if they start doing that they’re just going to open up huge running lanes.”
As a result, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Georgia lean even more heavily on its rushing attack against Missouri. Quarterback Hutson Mason has yet to really be productive enough to garner the respect of opposing defenses, so he’ll need all of the help he can get in avoiding guys like Ray and Golden.
“We’re better than we were,” Richt added about his offensive line,” but are we good enough to keep them from harassing the quarterback? I don’t know if we’re that good. That will be a big challenge and a big matchup.”