Dawgs' OL to Get Serious Test

ATHENS – The first thing Mark Richt noticed about LSU's defensive line was that its youngest member was the same age as Georgia's oldest offensive lineman.

It's an interesting fact, but it's not usually the first thing people notice about a group that features three starters who tip the scales at more than 290 pounds.

The Tigers are even bigger on the other side of the line, where left guard Herman Johnson checks in at 6-foot-7 and 375 pounds – one of three offensive linemen who weigh more than 315 pounds.

"When they recruit," Richt said, "they look for the guys that are just a little bit bigger than everybody else."

With that kind of size at the line of scrimmage, Richt has no doubt his Bulldogs are in for a physical game. What isn't as certain is how well they'll handle it.

The closest comparison to the front Georgia will face on both sides of the line Saturday came last month against Alabama. Like LSU, the Crimson Tide featured a burly bunch of linemen. Against Georgia, Alabama dominated the trenches and by halftime boasted a 31-0 lead.

More than a month after the debacle against the Tide, however, many of Georgia's big boys feel there's reason to believe the outcome will be different this time around.

"I think the Alabama game, we were just caught up in the hype," defensive end Jerely Lomax said of the game which featured a prime-time broadcast, black jerseys and a visit from ESPN's "GameDay." "This week, we're not going to get caught up in hype, we're just going to go out there and play ball from quarter one to the end of the game."

On offense, Georgia was helpless in the running game against Alabama. By halftime, the Bulldogs had run for just 17 yards behind an offensive line that couldn't open running lanes against the fierce Alabama front.

In the second half, however, with the running game all but abandoned, the pass protection held and the Bulldogs added 30 points to the scoreboard.

Since then, the offensive line hasn't just gelled – it has been a strength. The Bulldogs haven't allowed a sack in their past two contests, and running back Knowshon Moreno has racked up more than 100 yards in each – including a season high 172 against Vanderbilt last week.

"The more experience they get, the more they don't get caught off guard with something new," Richt said of the offensive line. "I am sure there are some things LSU will do that our guys haven't seen on film yet, but for the most part they are getting accustomed to what it is going to take to be successful."

Against the Tigers, the running game will be key on both sides of the ball.

Fullback Brannan Southerland said the offense's top priority is to make sure Moreno and the other tailbacks have room to run, something that won't be easy against LSU's fearsome front.

While the hefty defensive linemen seem intimidating, however, it's the smaller defensive ends that worry Richt. On several occasions this season, LSU has put four defensive ends on the field at the same time, bringing an all-out pass rush that Richt worries his line won't be able to stop.

"In the third-and-long situation they've got you where they want you," Richt said. "Most of the time you are going to have to throw the ball and they know that, so they but their very best pass rushers in the game. That is a problem."

The solution is to run the ball effectively and stay out of third-and-long situations.

The solution on the other side of the ball is to make sure LSU doesn't do the same.

"They're struggling at the quarterback position right now, and I believe that will be a big favor for Georgia," defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. "That will help us out a lot, going down there without a quarterback that's really good. That can kill you. That's going to be really good to stop the run, get them in some third-down situations and see if we can get some sacks."

Georgia hasn't had much luck with that all season. Since the Alabama game, the Irvin is the only member of the Bulldogs' defensive line to notch a sack, and the defensive ends haven't recorded one against an SEC opponent all season.

What was encouraging, however, was the pressure Georgia was able to get a week ago against Vanderbilt. While the Bulldogs didn't record a sack, Irvin said they tormented quarterback Mackenzi Adams all day, which led to turnovers for the defense.

"There was about 15 pressures," Irvin said. "We had two interceptions, but we dropped three. Pressure is as good as a sack because we're hurrying them out of the pocket. He's not comfortable, he's not ready to throw the ball. We would love to get sacks but pressure is also good."

Of course, Vanderiblt doesn't present quite the same challenge the Bulldogs will face this week in Baton Rouge, and interior line coach Rodney Garner said he's not sure how his unit will react.

One thing he is sure of, however, is that their performance will determine the outcome of the game.

"The last time we had this opportunity, we went out and we did not perform," Garner said. "The kids fought back and showed a better representation of what we were in the second half, but we can't afford to do that again this week."

Against a massive group of 300-pounders, that won't be an easy task. But Garner said the team's focus is sharp, practice has been encouraging, and the players are excited about the challenge.

Beyond that, he said, there's only one bit of advice he gave his players: "You better eat your Wheaties," he said.

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