Offensive Lines In Focus for Alabama and Georgia Following Week 1 Action

By Scott Page
it's all on the line
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

After one game, there is one pressing question about the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs: Will the offensive lines cost these teams a trip to Atlanta? Both scored 35 points, only one team was victorious, but both groups of big uglies were just that – ugly. If these two are to meet again in the SEC Championship game, it will happen on the backs of better play from the offensive line. Otherwise, don’t expect either of these teams to win their respective divisions.

The Alabama offense gained just 206 yards against Virginia Tech – its lowest total since it managed only 172 in a 20-6 victory over Tulane on Sept. 6, 2008 and the eighth lowest offensive total of any team in the nation in Week 1. The Crimson Tide offensive line was extremely shaky, struggling with both its run blocking and pass protection. As a result, the offense – despite its surplus of playmakers at wide receiver and running back – couldn’t generate anything the ground or through the air.

Potential star running back T.J. Yeldon was able to grind out 75 yards despite the lack of holes to run through, but the Tide totaled only 96 yards on the ground. Quarterback A.J. McCarron, a preseason Heisman contender, was only able to throw for 110 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked three times and threw one interception. Overall, Bama had 11 negative offensive plays that lost a total of 47 yards.

Luckily, Alabama has an extra week to prepare for its trip to College Station to take on Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Even more encouraging was the 500-plus yards the Aggies surrendered to Rice. The Crimson Tide was back to practice on Labor Day, and if Nick Saban is planning to shake-up the offensive line, it hasn’t happened yet. From left to right, Cyrus KouandjioArie KouandjioRyan KellyAnthony Steen and Austin Shepherd worked through drills together Monday, according to practice reports.

Ultimately, it has to be mentioned that Christion Jones’ punt and kick return touchdowns, along with Vinnie Sunseri’s touchdown on interception return, took three offensive drives away from Alabama. The Tide’s defense and special teams were spectacular in the win. If this team is able to work out the kinks on offense, the result could be scary for every other team on Alabama’s schedule. But if the offensive line can’t gel and work better as a unit, it’s hard to believe the Crimson Tide can navigate the SEC by way of defense and points off special teams.

One of the few positives that can be taken out of Georgia’s 38-35 loss at Death Valley is the Bulldogs had 545 yards of offense and lost to a very good Clemson team by only three points despite a dismal performance by the veteran offensive line.

Georgia returned all its OL starters from last year and came out of the preseason boasting more depth than it’s had at those positions in quite a while. But unfortunately Saturday night proved that just because you’re experienced doesn’t mean you’re good.

When Clemson’s defense turned to a more aggressive, blitzing style of play after Georgia’s early success, the offensive line was completely unable to handle the Tigers’ speed off the edge, resulting in a breakdown of protection for Aaron Murray. Clemson sacked Murray four times and pressured him into throwing one interception. That’s bad news for Georgia fans, considering Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina come to call this weekend.

In addition to doing a poor job handling Clemson’s pressure, Georgia’s offensive line also opened few holes for the running backs – making the 154 yards a dinged-up Todd Gurley racked up on 12 carries (including a 75-yard touchdown run) even more impressive. Gurley was the best Bulldogs player on the field Saturday night, ripping through Clemson defenders for the majority of his yards.

Sure, there was a key botched snap on a 20-yard field-goal attempt that prevented Georgia from tying the game at 31, but that mishap followed a drive in which the Bulldogs had first-and-goal just outside the 5-yard line and were unable to punch the ball in with three running plays.

If just a few things went differently Saturday night, Georgia might be 1-0 right now. Even then, there would be a serious need to improve up front. If that doesn’t happen, the Bulldogs will be 0-2 against the state of South Carolina and all but out of the SEC title hunt.

Scott Page is an SEC football writer for Follow him on Twitter, Like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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