If the most maligned coach on Georgia’s staff is Jim Chaney, offensive line coach Sam Pittman hasn’t been too far behind. Never mind that he’s had personnel issues — maybe some thought that bringing in a guard from Rhode Island to play left tackle is how everyone does it — including green talent and undersized interior anchored by a first-year center who’s a converted defensive lineman, no to mention modifying a blocking scheme from what Georgia ran for many years. We want a dominant o-line and we want it yesterday!
My suggestion to those of you frustrated by the lack of progress shown by Pittman’s charges is that you may want to take a closer look at their work during the Mississippi State game.
Jeffery Simmons came into Saturday night as the reigning SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week in consecutive weeks. He didn’t leave Athens expecting to notch his third such award in a row. Indeed, he departed having been almost a non-factor. I’m going to outsource the deets to Matt Hinton, because he does such a bloody great job laying out the offensive line’s work neutralizing Simmons.
No, the real revelation was Georgia’s offensive line, which not only held up against Mississippi State’s formidable front seven but often imposed its will. It was an especially miserable night for the rising star of MSU’s defensive line, Jeffery Simmons, who barely registered on the stat sheet and was generally neutralized by a steady diet of double teams.
To put it bluntly, on a handful of plays in this game Simmons was physically manhandled in a fashion that was the complete opposite of his star turn against LSU. Keep an eye on Simmons (No. 94) on Georgia’s first carry of the game, a straight-ahead iso run by true freshman D’Andre Swift, which gained 12 yards behind a pancake-worthy combo block by left tackle Isaiah Wynn (77) and left guard Kendall Baker (65):
Up next is a nearly identical play in the second quarter, which saw Simmons getting driven a good seven yards off the ball (and eventually to the ground) by Baker and center Lamont Gaillard (53):
Third quarter now, on another straight-ahead run pitting Simmons against a double team by Baker and Gaillard, with similarly lopsided results as Sony Michel barreled for 8 yards through the hole cleared by the interior line:
That run set up the dagger, a 41-yard touchdown pass on the next play from Jake Fromm to tight end Isaac Nauta that extended UGA’s lead to 28-3; predictably, it came at the expense of an MSU secondary that was fully committed to run support on third-and-1. By that point it had no choice: Georgia’s offensive line had repeatedly asserted itself as the burlier unit in the trenches, and Mississippi State’s d-line — the standout unit in the Bulldogs’ win over LSU — needed all the help on an ostensible run down it could get.
The point here isn’t to single out Simmons, a bona fide 5-star talent who (rough night notwithstanding) remains one of the conference’s most promising young players, or anyone else on the MSU defense; it’s to it’s to highlight the kind of physicality from Georgia that’s been sorely missing against top-shelf SEC defenses for at least the past two years.
The Bulldogs aren’t massive between the tackles (Baker and Gaillard are listed at 287 and 288 pounds, respectively, undersized for modern SEC blockers) but they made a compelling case Saturday that they have the muscle to grind out a steady living on the ground against the rest of the regular-season schedule, at least. If that’s the case, the looming impasse at quarterback may be strictly academic.
Matt’s last point there shouldn’t be understated. If the offensive line is in fact on the road to steadiness, the pressure to find a quarterback to carry the team is lessened significantly. If Georgia can run the ball consistently, given the dominance of the defense and the improved special teams play, all that’s needed at quarterback is a competent game manager who can move the chains without plunging the team into trouble because of poor decision-making. That should sound like a familiar formula to anyone who’s been watching the conference’s dominant program over the last decade.
All of which brings me back to Sam Pittman. In a little over a season’s worth of work, he’s already shown himself to be the best recruiter at that position in years. If what we saw Saturday night wasn’t a mirage, maybe it turns out that the man is all he’s cracked up to be, given time. Or maybe this is just another crazy coincidence:
Does that possibly explain why Bert took Pittman’s departure so hard? His loss is looking like Georgia’s gain.