UGA's OL - Know the Problem; Don't Guess

ATHENS - When Kirby Smart talked with his team after the loss to Vanderbilt he told them they did enough to win the game.

But that they had not won it - as was clear from the scoreboard.  

He was correct on both points. The first-year head coach, still working through his own growing pains, admitted to me after the game in the press conference that he wasn’t sure how UGA lost the game. He said he was disgusted. He said the loss was on him. Georgia had beaten Vanderbilt up and down the field - the UGA defense allowed only one scoring drive; the offense had not turned the ball over and run up big numbers. 

But special teams mistakes cost the Dawgs once more. 

In the locker room following the game, Kirby told those in silver britches that “the coaches, us, we didn’t do a good enough job of getting y’all ready for this game.”

No excuses were given. The standard line, regarding the 24-hour rule, was given before the team broke up their post-game meetings. That rule means the team has 24 hours to celebrate a win, or 24 hours to mourn a loss. 

The truth is UGA, from a personnel standpoint, is not where it needs to be on offense. Now, they are certainly where they need to be a to beat Vandy - and yardage totals show you the game should have been something like a 16-7 UGA win rather than a 17-16 Vandy win - but that didn’t happen. 

Still, in talking with folks before and after the game (football folks; not boosters) two major themes come up consistently - lack of ideal players on the offensive line and no real playmakers at receiver. The good news, according to most, is that one of those things can be corrected quickly - the receivers. The bad news is that you can't/don't correct an offensive line in one recruiting cycle or a season of coaching. 

Consider that Georgia’s starting left tackle - the most important position on the offensive line… perhaps on offense period - is a transfer from Rhode Island who was a second-team selection for his conference. That’s just not an ideal situation. 

“A second team all-conference player is the BEST option at LT. That says it all,” said one astute former player. “Did I mention the conference I'm referencing is at the FCS level?”

Another former lineman said of the struggling offensive line after the loss this weekend to the Gators: “It's obviously a combination of things, but I don’t know what we were recruiting after my year - no tackle bodies at all. Pyke is a guard. No tackle bodies at all. Pyke is a guard.”

But Pyke is playing tackle... which is most certainly not guard. 

I warned folks the tackle situation - both tackles - would be a real problem in the summer, and it has been. Pyke is playing out of position at right tackle. Brandon Kublanow has struggled much more than I thought he would. And those are the three older guys.

The lack of consistent play from the offensive line has led to the up-and-down nature of the offense this season. You just can’t predict what that group will do, and that has made for the schizophrenic nature of the offense’s production. Power run game one week; Jacob Eason the next. And Eason can't do it by himself as we saw in Jacksonville.

The truth is that Georgia has no identity on offense. That’s even with one of the top running backs in school history, and a gifted young thrower. Often those two don’t seem to mesh. Also, the team doesn’t trust place kicking enough to take shots at scoring three points like it has in the past. So even though the kicking has gotten better, Kirby and company just don’t trust it enough to try for a bunch of FGs.

Then again, the offensive line might look better if there was a scary threat outside of the running backs. That this program is so limited at receiver compounds the indictment of recruiting of the past. And while receiver is a position you can quick fix with recruiting, it doesn’t seem like there is one player on the recruiting trail who can be that guy right now. 

Than again, UGA has been an utter failure in recruiting as it specifically relates to the offensive line. Consider that each position group in the program has at least one five-star player: Jacob Eason at QB; Sony Michel at RB; Isaac Nauta at TE; Terry Godwin at WR; Trent Thompson at DL; Lorenzo Carter at LB; and Mecole Hardman at DB. 

But not the offensive line. 

Did you know that UGA hasn’t signed a top 100 offensive line prospect since signing John Theus (No. 7) in 2012. Since that time Georgia has signed 11 offensive line prospects who are not considered Scout 300 players and only six who are considered Top 300 players. There is something very wrong with that. Offensive lineman, more than any other position, can be developed. But inadequate recruiting and three OL coaches in the last three seasons has made UGA's adventure on the offensive line miserable. If the Bulldogs’ offensive line recruiting holds firm as is they will double the amount of Top 100 players signed since 2012 in this one class alone (2 prospects). 

That’s embarrassing. That’s what’s leading to being held to under 30 yards rushing against the Gators - not Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. 

These problems are going to have to be addressed with recruiting. Globally, the offensive line is getting where it needs to go, but only because of recruiting. Chris Barnes and Ben Cleveland are redshirting. Solomon Kindley has played against Missouri, but Kirby said on Tuesday night he was trying to get a redshirt for him. In other words, Kirby is trying to season his future offensive line by having not fewer than seven freshmen competing for playing time next season - true freshmen and redshirt freshmen. Cleveland is going to have to play major minutes next season, so this fall is about development for him. Kindley falls in that same category. I expect UGA to keep the four players they have committed to them - all in the Scout 300 - as well as adding at least one if not two more players. Don’t look now, but UGA has secured another Top 100 offensive line prospect (Max Wray, No. 64) for the class of 2018, and quite possibly another in Luke Griffin, who is a 2019 prospect, but we are early in the game. 

If you are keeping score at home, and I always do, Pittman has recruited as many Scout 300 offensive linemen (6) in fewer than 12 months than the previous OL coaches have in the last five years. Amazing. 

Don't wonder if this is about recruiting. KNOW that this is about recruiting. 

UGA coaches have made clear inside the program and on the recruiting trail that they want massive offensive linemen - guys who will play at 330 pounds. That means guys like Barnes, Sage Hardin and Pat Allen still have physical development to go before making an impact. That’s also why you are seeing the likes of Andrew Thomas (318 pounds), D'Antne Demery (304 pounds), Justin Shaffer (356 pounds) and Netori Johnson (348 pounds) all being recruiting. Those are guys who already hit the prototype numbers Sam Pittman is looking for in his future offensive line. 

Consider that group, which averages 332 pounds WHILE IN HIGH SCHOOL, against UGA’s current starting offensive line, which averages 303 pounds while starting in the SEC. 

People want these problems fixed right now, but, frankly, that’s just not going to happen. They are going to have to play better with what they have right now. 

Get the offensive line right, and that might take about a year or maybe 20 games, and other things fall into place. That’s what UGA has been missing, for the most part, more than anything else over the last decade… a great offensive line. The good news is that for the first time in a very long time UGA has multiple Top 100 offensive linemen committed to playing in Silver Britches. 

In terms of playmakers at receiver, that’s been a struggle for a long time for the Dawgs. Much of that was due to inept recruiting by Tony Ball. But he’s been gone now for two recruiting cycles, but his legacy of not recruiting the position the way one needs to in this conference still hurts. 

The receivers, as it stands right now, just are not there. The state itself hasn’t produced a ton of great receivers in the last few years, so it will be up to James Coley to not only develop what the Bulldogs have - a slew of young unpolished receivers - and more importantly get better recruits… quick.

But nothing works without a functional line, and that's not going to happen this season. 

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