Battle in the trenches

The Georgia offensive line has been really good this season. The South Carolina defensive line has also been really good this season. On Saturday night one of the two must give, and the one that comes out on top is likely going to be the one that sees their team improve to 6-0 on the season and the favorite to win the SEC East.

Entering the 2012 season one of the few question marks on fifth-ranked Georgia's team was the offensive line. The 2012 Georgia offensive line features just two linemen that played in Georgia's last game of 2011. Guard Chris Burnette and tackle Kenarious Gates were the lone returning starters from that game. David Andrews has stepped into the starting role at center, Dallas Lee starts opposite Burnette at guard, and true freshman John Theus has taken over at right tackle.

Though it is a new-look line for the Bulldogs, they have some experience. Andrews made an appearance in 10 games last season and Lee appeared in eight games and started seven. Through the first five games of the season, that weakness has become one of the biggest strengths of the Georgia team.

Georgia is averaging nearly 250 rushing yards per game and the line has only given up seven sacks on the season. Georgia is 11th in the nation in rushing yards per game and first in the SEC. They have opened up holes for the two freshman stud running backs, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Nicknamed "GurShall" the duo are both averaging eight yards per carry and have combined for 14 touchdowns. Gurley leads the conference in rushing yards per game and Marshall in seventh, the only teammates in the top 15 in the conference. Both have been human highlight reels with multiple big runs. Much like Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina, the duo is capable of making the offensive line look good, but the line has done their fair share themselves.

While the Georgia offensive line has had great success early in the year, they clearly have not played a defensive front like they will face Saturday night in Columbia. South Carolina is tied for second in the NCAA in sacks with 22 and tied for sixth in tackles for loss with 42. Jadeveon Clowney leads the defense from the defensive end position and Devin Taylor is a close second on the other side.

"They are outstanding, there's no doubt about it," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "They are tall, athletic and they have outstanding technique. They are much more physical against the run than they were a year ago. They really are complete players."

Clowney is second in the conference with 5.5 sacks and also in tackles for loss with 9.5. Taylor has 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Richt knows that if you focus all your attention on Clowney, Taylor will get you from the other side and vice versa.

"You can't just slide your protection to one guy without freeing up the other to have some type of one-on-one situation," said the Georgia head coach. "There's going to be times when we'll probably be doing a little chipping, double-teaming or sliding to them, but there's going to be times when a guy is just going to have to man up and block them. Hopefully, we'll have a good enough mix of run, pass and flash and pass, that we'll keep them where they aren't 100 percent sure that we're just dropping back and throwing the football. I think they do the most damage when it comes to pass rush. Hopefully we can do a good job with the combination of slide protection to one of them, chipping a guy on the way out or double-teaming with a tight end and a tackle or whatever, to get the ball off. We just have to be able to find different ways to keep them a little bit off balance."

Those aren't the only two guys the Georgia line has to worry about. Carolina is pretty good in the middle as well. Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles is tied for eleventh with 2.5 sacks and Byron Jerideau is tied for seventeenth with two sacks. Defensive ends Chaz Sutton is tied for sixth in the conference with three sacks and Aldrick Fordham is part of the tie for eleventh with 2.5 sacks. Georgia clearly hasn't seen so many guys coming from so many directions and may struggle at times with the speed and schemes of the Carolina defensive line.

They say games are won in the trenches, and the chess match between Bulldog offensive line coach Will Friend and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo against Carolina defensive line coach Brad Lawing and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward may end up being the deciding factor in who wins Saturday night and will be in the driver's seat to win the SEC East title.

Match-ups

RT John Theus – 6'6, 309-pound freshman.
–Vs.–
DE Jadeveon Clowney – 6'6, 256-pound sophomore

RG Chris Burnette – 6'2, 322-pound junior
–Vs.–
DT Kelcy Quarles – 6'4, 286-pound sophomore

C David Andrews – 6'2, 295-pound sophomore

LG Dallas Lee – 6'3, 300-pound junior
–Vs.–
DT Byron Jerideau – 6'1, 316-pound senior

LT Kenarious Gates – 6'5, 318-pound junior
–Vs.–
DE Devin Taylor – 6'8, 267-pound senior


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