Friendly Meeting: Will Friend leads UGA o-line into SEC title game against alma mater

Will Friend received a text message early this week from Michael Ray, his friend and former college teammate, informing him he was torn about Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game.

Friend and Ray played on the offensive line for Alabama in the mid-1990s, but Friend now coaches the Georgia offensive line that will go up against the Crimson Tide.

“I told him, ‘Hey, man, it’s hard to believe you’d go for Alabama over me as much as we’ve gone through together,’” Friend said.

John Causey, who played three seasons beside Friend on the Crimson Tide line, said he thinks he knows how that internal struggle would go.

“I know who he’s going to root for,” Causey said. “They were roommates so they give each other a hard time, but I know blood is thicker than water. I love Will Friend to death, but when it comes down to Alabama and Georgia, I’m going to go with the blood.”

Friend’s ties to Alabama are of lesser importance to him this week than what’s viewed as a critical component for Georgia’s chances in Atlanta: how its offensive line will hold up against the Alabama defensive front.

“I can’t believe y’all are asking about a bad player 20 years ago,” Friend told reporters. “You got all these good players playing in a game (Saturday) and you’re talking about a bad one from 20 years ago.”

Friend actually was a two-time All-SEC guard who was named to Alabama’s team of the decade in the 1990s.

“Will, as a player, understood the game,” said Causey, a center and captain of Alabama’s 1996 team and now head football coach at American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa. “We had so many reps together that we understood what we both needed to do and what we both saw. He’s a supersmart guy. … He’s a humble guy. He understands what his purpose is now and that’s coaching Georgia’s offensive line.”

That offensive line, a big worry back in the spring, struggled mightily in the Bulldogs’ only loss this season to South Carolina on Oct. 6 with what coach Mark Richt this week called “edge issues,” but the line has improved as the season has progressed.

There was a rough first half against Ole Miss when Aaron Murray was sacked five times, but they’ve paved the way for freshmen tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and a running game that ranks fourth in the SEC.

“We’re just trying to realize that it’s always going to be a challenge for us,” offensive guard Chris Burnette said. “At the beginning of the season, we’ve kind of been the question mark. We realize that. We kind of take that as a chip on our shoulder and make sure that when we come out there we want to make sure that we’re on top of our game so people don’t blame it on us.”

Alabama is fourth in the SEC with 2.5 sacks per game, but linebackers Don’t’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw from the 2011 national title team were top 35 NFL draft picks. Linebacker Adrian Hubbard leads the team with five sacks.

“The weakness of both teams are kind of facing each other,” CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson said. “Alabama’s not a great pass rush team. … They have to kind of do it as a group, but that’s kind of the worst thing Georgia does is pass protect. Who wins that kind of left-handed dribble contest probably will be the story of the game.”

Richt shot down the suggestion that the Bulldogs’ offensive line could be a “liability,” in Atlanta.

“A liability? I wouldn’t say they’re a liability,” Richt said. “I think they’ll have a great challenge. If I would say they’re a liability, we definitely would be in trouble. I think they’re going to know what to do and I think they’re going to play really hard.”

Friend has seen his players work to improve, but that doesn’t mean they are performing like he would like on a weekly basis.

“They’ve gotten better, but at the same time we’ve got to be more consistent,” he said.

If Georgia wins the SEC championship, the job that Friend did with a group that includes a freshman, John Theus, at right tackle won’t go unnoticed. The Bulldogs certainly didn’t look like they had it in them against Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor in Columbia, S.C.

“We’re probably a little better at blocking now then we were then,” Richt said. “Theus is getting there. He’s got a ways to go, but he’s getting there. I think we’ll be all right.”

Friend grew up across the border in Mississippi as an Alabama fan. The son of a high school football coach, he made plenty of hour and a half trips to the Tuscaloosa campus.

After redshirting a season, he was a four-year starter from 1994-97 under Gene Stallings and Mike DuBose. Friend was part of an Alabama program that went to three SEC championship games, losing each time to Florida. He missed the 1996 game because of a knee injury.

“This is my family here, these players and this staff,” Friend said. “We’re just trying to focus on giving ourselves the best chance to win.”

Said Burnette: “I feel like he’s a Dawg through and through now.”

Blog: UGA filing reinstatement paperwork with NCAA for Gurley, expects...

by Marc Weiszer

Georgia will file paperwork Wednesday with the NCAA to seek reinstatement for suspended star running back Todd Gurley, the school said in an announcement. “The... Full Story

Follow marcweiszer

marcweiszer

Georgia filing resinstatement paperwork with NCAA for RB Gurley today, expects ‘prompt ruling’ http://t.co/YvfRiyHuV1

4 hours ago