CLEMSON — In a 38-35 loss where Georgia logged more rushing and passing yards than Clemson, the Bulldogs’ offensive line struggled to find consistency.
AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (11) calls a play near the end zone during the second half of an NCAA college football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers in Clemson, S.C., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013.
The Bulldogs rushed for 222 yards and passed for 323 in Saturday night’s game, but those stats couldn’t beat Clemson. Junior offensive tackle Kolton Houston made his career debut in the game and found out almost immediately where he and his fellow linemen must improve.
“There were definitely a lot of positives from this game,” Houston said. “We moved the ball really good, but we weren’t able to put consecutive drives together.”
Another area where the line could have improved was protecting Aaron Murray, who was sacked four times.
“Anytime we get Aaron sacked or pressured as much as he did we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Houston said. “We gave up too much pressure for Aaron and we’ve got to open up more holes for Todd [Gurley] and Keith [Marshall].”
Gurley did however rush for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, but Georgia’s run game as a whole couldn’t get it done early in the drives.
“We weren’t able to run the ball on first down,” Houston said. “When you’re playing on the road and you’ve got second and third and longs, you’ve got to pin your ears back and that’s a hard task for the offensive line. We’ve got to establish the run on first down.”
Georgia had problems establishing its run game, but it also had a tough time avoiding costly penalties. The offense accounted for nine penalties in the game, totaling up to 84 yards.
“We really hurt ourselves on first downs and penalties,” Houston said. “You can’t do that on the road.”
Coach Mark Richt said Georgia hurt itself with penalties, but it’s just something a team has to learn to deal with as an offensive unit. On top of that, Georgia was playing in an atmosphere that didn’t allow any offensive rhythm. Richt said that’s to be expected with any loud crowd.
“A lot of times when you play in an environment like this it throws you off your cadence,” Richt said. “You just don’t get the jump you want off the line. I think the crowd noise had a lot to do with that.”
Georgia made a lot of noise about the depth of its offensive line during fall camp. There were extensive talks of a deep rotation. Offensive line coach Will Friend even had plans to rotate as many eight players throughout the game. While Georgia didn’t quite rotate eight against Clemson, it played enough of its lineup to give its linemen a quick breather.
“We ended up rotating six, and I think that’s pretty much what we knew was going to happen,” Houston said.
Murray was dropped several times early in the game, and Houston was willing to admit the offensive line was at fault for many, if not all of those. However, Houston said Murray was his usual self and stayed calm and collected.
“He’s a leader, but he never raised his voice at us,” Houston said. “We never got down on ourselves. We stayed positive the whole time. That’s just football.”
Houston and his teammates have established they’ve got to get better, but it won’t happen overnight.
“There’s a lot of rust to wear off on everybody, so we just have to put this past us and go on to the next game,” Houston said. “This game’s over, but next week starts conference play and that’s what matters.”
As far as rust, no player should have as much as Houston. The Clemson game was his first collegiate appearance after all. Though some crowd noise may have had him shaken up in the loss, his nerves didn’t.
“It was fun,” Houston said. “After the first snap it just became football and I didn’t even think about it.”
The season-opener gave Houston a chance to gauge where he stands at the college level. Though he’s a junior, he’s still playing at a freshman experience level as far as games go. He says he knows where he needs to step up his game.
“We’ve got a lot to get better at,” Houston said. “I can improve my pass blocking and just improve on my technique and try to get better.”