Why Georgia's maulers aren't getting enough respect heading into the Peach Bowl
I’ll be honest. I thought Georgia was robbed.
When the Joe Moore Award was announced for the best offensive line in college football, I thought that the Dawgs had a legitimate case.
They allowed just 7 sacks all year and they were tied for No. 3 in FBS with 37 rushing touchdowns with a bevy of different backs. Georgia, Tennessee and Oregon were the only teams in America with both a passing offense and a rushing offense that ranked in the top 20 nationally, and well, we know who won that battle when those teams ran into the Dawgs. Shoot, after Michigan won the Joe Moore Award last year, Georgia then out-ran the Wolverines 190-91 en route to a blowout victory.
This year, the award came down to Georgia vs. Michigan, but ultimately, the Wolverines became the first team to ever repeat as winners.
With all due respect to the fine 9-man committee, file that one in the ever-thin “bulletin board material” folder of disrespect for Georgia.
Unlike last year when the Dawgs dominated the Joe Moore Award winners, they won’t get that showdown in the semifinal. Perhaps that could be waiting in the national championship, but first, UGA is tasked with feasting on some disrespect against Ohio State.
Why don’t we talk about the Georgia offensive line more? It’s a fair question without a real answer. We forget that they’ve actually had 3 different coaches at the position since Kirby Smart began UGA’s run of dominance in 2017. But whether it was Sam Pittman, Matt Luke or most recently Stacy Searels, that group seemingly never stopped improving.
Maybe we don’t talk about the Dawgs up front because when Stetson Bennett IV makes off-script plays, the natural reaction is to praise the 25-year-old’s poise instead of recognizing the offensive line that kept him upright for so long. Bennett himself said after the SEC Championship that he “didn’t think he got touched.” Mind you, that was against guys like BJ Ojulari and true freshman sensation Harold Perkins.
In fact, look at the list of Power 5 players who had at least 5 sacks this season but failed to get a sack on Bennett:
- BJ Ojulari, LSU
- Harold Perkins, LSU
- Derick Hall, Auburn
- Byron Young, Tennessee
- Tyrus Wheat, MSU
- Isaiah McGuire, Mizzou
- DJ Coleman, Mizzou
- Keion White, Georgia Tech
- DJ Johnson, Oregon
I mean, Bennett hasn’t been sacked since mid-October. That’s 6 consecutive games against Power 5 competition in which UGA kept its signal-caller upright. Half of those teams earned a top-25 ranking in the final Playoff poll, too. Sure, part of that is having a quarterback in his mid-20s. But the other part of that is having a selfless, dominant group who clearly into its own.
Broderick Jones looked every bit like a former 5-star recruit anchoring the left side of that line. He hasn’t allowed a single sack and he surrendered just 8 pressures in 13 games (via PFF). Jones and first-team All-SEC right tackle Warren McClendon, who was banged up in the SEC Championship but is hopeful to play in the Peach Bowl, both ranked among the SEC’s top 4 tackles in PFF pass-blocking grade. Hence, why defensive ends don’t take over against Georgia.
Of course, containing Ohio State’s JT Tuimoloau will be their toughest task of the season. We saw him take over against Penn State and totally flip that game in Happy Valley. The combination of Tuimoloau and veteran edge rusher Zach Harrison will have a major say in whether those reliable Georgia tackles continue their brilliance.
It helps that this Todd Monken version of the Georgia offense can run up-tempo sets and wear down guys like Tuimoloau and Harrison. It also helps that the Dawgs have actual offensive balance that’s been effective regardless of the opposing defense. Thank those interior linemen for that.
UGA ranks No. 7 in FBS with 5.53 yards per carry, which it reached without some elite Georgia back like Nick Chubb or Todd Gurley. After a somewhat quiet start on the ground, UGA finished by eclipsing 230 rushing yards in 5 of its last 8 games.
And no, that’s not just rolling out a bunch of 5-stars out and pushing people around at the point of attack. It’s a true unit with a rotation of key contributors.
Devin Willock was barely a top-1,000 recruit in 2020, yet he became a steady part of the guard rotation after a start against Tennessee in place of the injured Xavier Truss. Willock played 50 snaps in the SEC Championship … a few of which were spent taking care of business against the aforementioned Perkins:
— PrePostGame (@ThePrePostGame) December 5, 2022
Willock’s emergence has been huge for a position group that dealt with injuries to both Truss and Tate Ratledge. Willock, Arkansas’ Beau Limmer and Florida All-American O’Cyrus Torrence are the only 3 SEC guards that PFF graded with run-blocking and pass-blocking grades of at least 70.0.
Georgia’s offensive line is loaded with guys who excel in both facets. That includes center Sedrick Van Pran.
If you’re looking for a link between this year’s team and last year’s squad outside of the household names (Bennett, Brock Bowers, Kirby Smart, etc.), it’s Van Pran. Not only was he Georgia’s starting center in every game in 2021, he also played more snaps than anybody on the roster during the Dawgs’ title run. As a result, he’s the unquestioned leader of this year’s group.
Van Pran isn’t just known for de-cleating tacklers at the second level, which he’ll soon be doing at the next level. He’s also got the pulse of Georgia’s offense. The third-year player has been around long enough to choose his words carefully and he isn’t one to spark the subject of “disrespect.”
But on Thursday when he was one of Georgia’s player representatives at Peach Bowl media availability, Van Pran was asked about Georgia not receiving the Joe Moore Award and if that’s motivation. He said “we definitely talked about it.”
Joe Moore Award winners or not, Saturday could very well be another semifinal reminder why we should be talking more about the Georgia offensive line.