Georgia’s offensive line has gone into stealth mode for its monster challenge.
The big men have hunkered down with all but one player off limits to the media as they prepare for their biggest test of the season Saturday against a formidable South Carolina defensive line.
Quarterback Aaron Murray has treated his line to Sunday night ice cream the past three weeks at Ben & Jerry’s for keeping him upright.
If they can protect him against a Gamecocks front led by defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, that might call for a “Vermonster.”
That’s 20 scoops of ice cream, four bananas, three cookies, a brownie, whipped cream, choice of hot fudge or caramel and topped off with sprinkles, Oreos, M&Ms, walnuts or peanuts. The price tag in Athens is $48.
“With the talent that we’re going against, I’m sure Aaron wouldn’t have too big of a problem shelling out the money for a Vermonster,” said offensive guard Chris Burnette, the line spokesman this week.
It’s supposed to serve five to seven people, but this is offensive linemen we are talking about here.
“I’ll buy them whatever they want,” Murray said.
He’s rewarded the linemen when they give up one or zero sacks. Georgia has allowed seven this season, but only two total the past three games.
South Carolina has 22 sacks, second most in the nation.
Georgia’s offensive line has exceeded expectations and helped pave the way for an offense that leads the SEC at 536 yards per game, but this will show their progress.
“This game will definitely be the best gauge,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “South Carolina’s defense is playing great. They are not playing good, they are playing great.”
Georgia’s offensive line was considered a big question mark this offseason after losing center Ben Jones and tackles Cordy Glenn and Justin Anderson.
They’ve come a long from the first full pads practice this spring when coaches worried about what they had.
“To their credit they have worked their tails off,” Richt said. “The linemen knew we had some issues. All summer long they decided as a group to get up at the crack of dawn and be the first ones there in the weight room. They worked extremely hard with our strength staff. Going against the defensive front they were going against day after day after day they just had to get better or get embarrassed. They got better. I don’t know if they are the best offensive line in America or anything like that right now, but they sure have made a lot of improvement, and they are playing well.”
Offensive line coach Will Friend preferred this week to have his players listen to him instead of field questions about what they’ll face Saturday.
“They see the tape,” Friend said laughing.
South Carolina’s defensive line has 18 of the Gamecocks’ 22 sacks. The 6-foot-6, 256-pound Clowney leads the way with 5 ½.
The sophomore had two sacks against Murray last year, forcing a fumble returned for a touchdown in the 45-42 Gamecocks victory.
“They do a great job of getting pressure with just four,” Murray said. “They don’t need to blitz to get pressure on the quarterback and create havoc in the run game.”
Georgia left tackle Kenarious Gates and right tackle John Theus will have their hands full.
The 6-8, 267-pound senior Taylor, an All-SEC pick the last two seasons, has 17 career sacks.
Theus surrendered two sacks and was flagged for three false starts in his only college road game at Missouri on Sept. 8
“He’s going to have a heck of a challenge ahead of him,” Friend said. “He knows that. …You can play for four or five years and it’s going to be a challenge against these two guys.”
Said fullback Merritt Hall: “He’ll be fine. I know John. He’s a hard worker and he’s going to fix his mistakes.”
So far the offensive line — which also includes center David Andrews and left guard Dallas Lee — has handled what’s been thrown its way.
“I knew they would be tied together pretty good as a group because they were smart,” Friend said. “These kids care about each other. They have a good rapport with each other and that’s so important. You can’t underestimate how far that goes when the heat starts flying.”