Georgia’s offensive line, a veteran group that returned all five starters, had fingers pointed at them after giving up four sacks to Clemson in a three-point, season-opening loss.
“We were really challenged last week,” said junior Kolton Houston, inserted in the starting lineup at left guard Saturday. “Us offensive linemen, we took the loss of last week and put that on our shoulders, so we had a lot to prove, especially coming out in playing one of the best defensive lines in the country.”
Well, South Carolina’s defensive line didn’t look like one of the best in a 41-30 Georgia victory.
Georgia limited Clowney, the All-American defensive end, to one sack and two tackles for loss.
“They just pounded us up front. No excuses,” Clowney said after the game. “They just really beat us up front, hands down. I give them their props.”
Said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: “Our guys did a heck of a job against him. Our whole offensive line, I can’t say enough about how they played.”
The Bulldogs line helped the offense amass 536 total yards and 25 first downs on a day Georgia kept the ball for 35 of the game’s minutes.
“Their O-line, they answered the challenge,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “I guess their coaches challenged them after the Clemson game.”
The coaches challenged them by working more on their blocking in two full-pads practices during the week of the game, which is a rarity.
“Our linemen really did improve from Week 1 to Week 2,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “They protected better overall and they got after it physically.”
The line helped allowed the Bulldogs to run out the clock with a time-eating drive in the game’s last 8:28.
After Georgia got the ball back, Richt said: “How glorious would it be if we could end the game right now?”
The physicality missing against Clemson was there, and Clowney didn’t wreak nearly as much havoc as he did in his first two games against Georgia, both Bulldogs losses.
“They didn’t do much different to block him,” Spurrier said. “He got a lot of pressure. Of course he went inside a few times, which he was supposed to, and we lost containment. If we’re going to send him inside we’ve got to send somebody outside. We’ve got to work on that.”
On a key 85-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Justin Scott-Wesley, left tackle Mark Beard was beat inside but he fought back enough to redirect Clowney away from Murray, who got outside the pocket to hit a wide open Scott-Wesley
“I ain’t going to lie, I was nervous,” said Beard, who replaced starter Kenarious Gates who left with an ankle injury. “I was real cold. I came in like Robert Horry.”
The former NBA player was known for making clutch shots.
Adding Houston to the mix on Georgia’s line brings some flexibility. The junior became eligible following a three-year ban for testing positive for traces of an anabolic steroid he says was administered medically in high school.
Houston played both left guard and right tackle against South Carolina.
“He’s kind of our putty guy,” Richt said. “He’s a guy that can play more than one spot, spell guys at different positions.”
So which Georgia offensive line will show up in the next game against North Texas on Sept. 21 or more importantly a week later against LSU?
Richt said this bunch can’t get by without the type of work ethic they showed against South Carolina.
“I think we’ve still got a bunch of guys who have to have that kind of effort to be successful,” Richt said. “They’re not so physically gifted that they’re going to dominate people. They have to fight like mad every snap, but when they do, they’re pretty effective.”