ATHENS, Ga. — In Georgia’s 37-10 Southeastern Conference victory over Ole Miss Saturday, the Bulldogs’ offensive line – and by extension, its entire offense – got off to a disturbingly slow start.
On the No. 7 Bulldogs’ first possession, quarterback Aaron Murray was sacked twice, and during Georgia’s second shot with the ball, he was taken down yet again.
The Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1) ran 11 plays in the first 15 minutes against the Rebels (5-4, 2-3), picking up 48 yards and exactly zero points. Such was the tale through most of the first two quarters, but a pair of unlikely big plays gave Georgia a 14-10 lead at halftime, despite two more Murray sacks late in the second quarter.
“It was embarrassing, to be honest,” said center David Andrews of the offensive line’s early performance. “We gave up four or five sacks in the first quarter, it seemed like. Some of it was miscommunication, but we’ve just got to step up our game and play better. We came out slow and didn’t execute.”
“It wasn’t a lot of fun,” added left tackle Kenarious Gates. “(Ole Miss) came with a lot of pressure and they were quick off the line. They had some great athletes, especially their defensive ends. They were quick. We just had to firm up the line and sustain our blocks longer.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo admitted that “We probably put them in some bad situations with heavy run early,” but said at no time did he have the feeling that anyone was losing the faith.
“We weren’t executing,” said Bobo. “But you’ve got to give those guys credit – they were playing hard and I didn’t see any panic. We weren’t getting any big plays in the run game or pass game and when you’re trying to hammer it in there play after play, it’s tough to drive the field. We had some big plays in the second and third quarter to pull away.”
“As a whole, offensively, we had a tough first quarter,” said quarterback Aaron Murray, who passed for 384 yards and four touchdowns, but thanks to the five first-half sacks finished with minus-24 rushing yards. “But our guys are a bunch of fighters. We never get too stressed or too worried. We know we have the talent to put points on the board and we put it behind us and said, ‘Hey, the defense is playing great, let’s do our part now,’ and we did that.”
The offensive line’s first-half problems were exacerbated when right guard Chris Burnette left with a left shoulder contusion, making it necessary for Gates to move to right guard and sophomore Mark Beard to man the left tackle position.
“We put Gates inside and put Mark Beard at left tackle,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who had no update on Burnette’s condition after the game. “Beard’s a very athletic guy and has the ability to play the position, but he just needs reps. He needed the opportunity and he got a lot of opportunity. And depending on what happens to Chris, he may get more opportunities.”
Both Gates and Andrews said that offensive line coach Will Friend consistently prepares his charges for just such a situation.
“Any dude that goes down, we’re always ready,” said Gates. “We are prepared for anything. We’re still one unit and we still play together, no matter what positions we play.”
“We didn’t miss a beat,” added Andrews. “We were able to keep going and that’s Coach (Will) Friend preparing us for moments like that in practice, rotating people. It shows the maturity that some of our guys have to keep going and not get messed up or frazzled by it.”
The good news, of course, is that early on, Georgia’s defense kept Ole Miss at bay and the offense quickly got in lockstep, scoring five times after the Rebels took the early 10-0 advantage.
“As the game went on, we started to protect better and our tackles started to get on them a little bit better,” said Richt.
“We definitely got better,” added Andrews. “We had trouble sustaining drives but we hit the big plays and put points on the board. But we’ve still got a lot to correct. It wasn’t our best game but we got the job done.”