The Georgia Bulldogs have a great opportunity in front of them in less than 18 hours: they can win the SEC and play for the national championship if they are victorious Saturday. It’s an “if” because the Bulldogs are going up against the Alabama Crimson Tide. And while the Bulldogs have had a great season, one would argue that the Crimson Tide has played much better than the Bulldogs this season.
Not only one, but it seems the consensus opinion going into this game is that the Crimson Tide is flat out better than the Bulldogs and that it will be on Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray to guide the Bulldogs to an upset. While I agree with the notion that the Crimson Tide are that much better than the Bulldogs, I choose to subscribe to the notion that it isn’t on Aaron Murray to play his heart out if the Bulldogs are going to win, but it’s on the Bulldogs’ offensive line to play their hearts out if the Bulldogs are going to win.
The offensive line is a group of men who get little attention and as little respect most of the time. They are also the anchor to the offense and without good play from them, everything else on the offense suffers.
There’s no doubt that Murray is going to have to play a tremendous game for the Bulldogs to have a real shot, but that also means he’s going to need to be protected. The Crimson Tide’s defense has been something of a marvel to me this season when you consider how fantastic it was last season, all the men from that defense they lost, and how head coach Nick Saban was able to put a new group of guys out there and produce similar results immediately.
That is what the Bulldogs are looking at when they play the Crimson Tide. The Bulldogs have met a defense as talented and physical as the Crimson Tide’s twice this season; they split those games, losing to the South Carolina Gamecocks and beating the Florida Gators, but their offense performed poorly in both.
The other part of the offense that the line has great influence on is the effectiveness of a team’s running game. For the Bulldogs, this might be a bigger factor than Murray’s performance. Yes, the Crimson Tide have shown to be vulnerable against an offense that puts the ball up in the air plenty and produces plenty.
However, if Murray is ineffective or he’s neutralized or if he has a terrible game, the Bulldogs need to be able to go to their running game. Mainly because they have a good, one might say underrated, running game. Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have been the guys getting the job done when Murray hasn’t this season. In a lot of games, they’ve acted as Murray’s backup, and will be just that in the Georgia Dome Saturday afternoon. But in the games where Murray has struggled, they’ve picked up the slack every time and in the case of the Bulldogs’ wins against the Gators and Tennessee Volunteers, these two have become the offense for an extended period of time during the game.
What the offensive line represents is the team part of team sport. Football is a team sport, but like any team sport it not only glorifies individual achievement, but it morphs individual achievement into team achievement. There is a difference. And that difference may end up being visible during the SEC title game Saturday if the Bulldogs do end up pulling off an upset. Because it won’t just be the play of Murray or any one player that will make it happen, but the play of all Bulldogs players on the field. And that team play being necessary is best exemplified by their offensive line: a five-man group that lives and dies by the play of all on the line.
This is what the Bulldogs will need if they are to upset the Crimson Tide and play for the national championship: an all-around team performance that begins with winning the battles at the line of scrimmage.