In the No. 6 Bulldogs’ 45-23 victory over Buffalo Saturday afternoon, quarterback Aaron Murray was sacked twice in the second quarter and once in the third quarter (for a total loss of eight yards) and freshman tackle John Theus left the game with an injured left ankle. But for the most part, Georgia’s offensive front — which came into the game with just 31 combined career starts — gave a good accounting of itself in its first test.
“There were a couple of blow-ups there,” said sophomore center David Andrews, who, like Theus, got his first career start Saturday. “We’ve got to do a better job of protecting (Murray). He’s our quarterback and that’s our job and we’ve got to do better.”
The proof, however, is in the pudding.
Besides collecting a season-opening victory, Georgia’s offense amassed 485 yards (227 rushing, 258 passing) and helped freshman tailback Todd Gurley run for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
And even though he was harassed several times during the afternoon, Murray still managed to complete 15 passes for 258 yards and touchdown passes to Tavarres King (63 yards), Michael Bennett (12 yards) and Rantavious Wooten (38 yards).
“They played great,” said Murray of the line. “Protection-wise, they were fantastic, and running the ball, they made huge holes all day long for our guys. They’re only going to get better and better the more they play with each other.”
Veteran guard Chris Burnette — who with 12 career starts shared graybeard status on the line with tackle Kenarious Gates — was for the most part pleased with the offensive front’s performance but pointed to several issues that kept its play from being better.
“It could be a variety of things — inexperience, first-game jitters, the heat,” he said. “All of those things could have been factors. … We did OK. We definitely want to keep Aaron upright the entire game and we didn’t achieve that. We also need to be more aggressive in the run game. We did some good things but there’s plenty of room for improvements, especially communication-wise and making sure we know what the guy next to us is doing.”
But perhaps the biggest factor Georgia’s line (which also included starting guard Dallas Lee) had to contend with was not knowing just exactly what the Bulls’ defense would throw at them. Coaches and players had said throughout the week that they weren’t sure what to expect from Buffalo’s new defensive coordinator Lou Tepper, and as a result there was a modification period early Saturday.
“There was a little confusion early in the game (because) they came out in stuff we hadn’t practiced for, like a three-down front,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “It’s not like our three-down front — it was more of a stacked-backer deal and it was a look we’d never seen.
“We adjusted well and we protected well for the most part. We gave up a couple of sacks and there were some third-and-long situations we’ve got to handle better when they’re only rushing three. I thought they fought hard and created some space for the backs.”
“Heading into the game, we weren’t exactly sure what (Buffalo was) going to run,” Murray added. “We were watching film from the 1990s to the early 2000s to last year and we really didn’t know what they were going to come out with, which is challenging for everyone, especially for an offensive line when it comes to protections and run blocks and stuff like that. They did a great job of adjusting all day, so I give them a lot of credit for that.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt stopped short of both praise and condemnation, but he clearly wasn’t pleased with the sacks of Murray.
“They did OK,” said Richt of the offensive line. “I don’t know if it was just an unbelievable performance. We had a couple of sacks there that weren’t very pretty. They had a three-man rush at one time and the edge rushers would come and squeeze the tackles… and sack Murray — I wasn’t too thrilled about that. But it wasn’t a poor performance. We’ve got some things to clean out, but we’ll get there if we stay healthy.”
The health status of Theus wasn’t known immediately after Saturday’s game, but the team also received a scare in the third quarter when Burnette had to come out for a brief spell.
“I pulled around on a power play and I guess one of the defenders had his helmet down and hit me dead in my sternum and it kind of hurt me for a second,” he said. “I thought I had just got the wind knocked out of me, so I wanted to get right back up but it was bothering me a little bit. I was only out for two or three plays and I came back in for the next series and after that they took me out for the rest of the game.”