Georgia's Offensive Line More Experienced

ATHENS -- Mark Richt and Nick Saban are in agreement on one point: Georgia's offensive line is better now than it was when Saban's LSU defense shredded it in the fourth game of the season.

"I do think their offensive line has made a significant amount of improvement through the course of the year," said Nick Saban, the Tigers head coach. "I think they have a tremendous offensive line."

Mark Richt agrees the Bulldogs are better than when LSU recorded four sacks and eight batted balls in a 17-10 victory in September, but he's far from using words like tremendous to describe his offensive line.

He's reluctant even to say No. 5 Georgia (10-2) will be good enough up front to stop the No. 3 Tigers (11-1) when the teams meet again, Saturday at 8 p.m. in Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship.

"I don't know what good enough is, but we have to play better than the last time," he said. "Have we improved enough to block it the way it needs to be blocked? I don't know."

The Bulldogs' players are glad they at least get the opportunity to find out.

"We feel like we didn't play as good as we could the first time so we're glad to get another shot at it," guard Josh Brock said.

It's commendable Georgia's offensive linemen want another chance considering how overmatched they looked at times in the first meeting. LSU, the nation's No. 1 scoring defense, is led by its defensive line, which Brock calls the best "by far" Georgia has faced this season. That line is the foundation for the Tigers' pressure-happy defense.

LSU doesn't blitz more often than some of Georgia's opponents this season but its schemes are much more varied, and the defensive linemen complicate the job by consistently stunting (changing positions and angles after the snap). In the teams' first meeting, the Bulldogs' offensive staff only had only three games worth of film to watch. This time, they have 12.

"It can drive you batty," Richt said.

"You really can't simulate all the things LSU does," guard Russ Tanner said.

Having seen some of LSU's scheme firsthand will help, Brock said.

"Now we just have to recognize what it is and stop it," he said.

That should be a little easier with eight more games of experience.

"When we played them the first time, they were young. You could tell they were," said LSU defensive tackle Chad Lavalais. "I'm pretty sure now they're playing a lot better. I'm not saying they were playing bad then, but you could tell in some parts they were young and inexperienced."

They're still young at some spots. Sophomore guard Bartley Miller started the last time, but he has missed the last three games and isn't expected to start Saturday due to a shoulder injury. To fill Miller's spot, the Bulldogs have moved former center Russ Tanner to guard to put true freshman Nick Jones at center.

Jones and true freshman guard Fernando Velasco, whose playing time has also increased in Miller's absence, didn't play a single snap the last time Georgia played the Tigers. Jones and Velasco had been rotating playing time, but Jones has become the favored freshman.

It will be a stiff test for Jones, who will often line up across from Lavalais.

"You are always concerned about everything, but I feel confident with Nick in the ball game," offensive line coach Neil Callaway said.

Georgia's offensive line showed some reasons for hope in the last meeting. Six of the Bulldogs' eight first half drives ended in LSU territory, five of those inside the 30-yard line. In sum, Georgia had 411 yards of offense but never seemed to find a rhythm or give quarterback David Greene time to make any plans down field.

"Early in the game, I thought they played very well," Lavalais said. "As the game went on, we kind of got a feel for them. We started coming after them."

That's when it got truly ugly as two straight possessions went backward. The Bulldogs started their second drive of the half on their 20-yard line. The drive ended on their 2-yard line four plays later with Greene on the sideline with a hyperextended knee. The next drive wasn't any better as the Bulldogs punted on fourth-and-17 from their 6.

"We did get out of sync," Callaway said. "There was a stretch in there that wasn't very good for us. There were two or three plays in a row where we screwed up or got beat, and it took the steam out of us a little bit."

Whether or not the Bulldogs have enough in the tank this time to hold up for 60 minutes won't be clear for four more days.

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