ATHENS, Ga. — By now, Georgia’s football team is renowned for exaggerating and flat-out making up slights for motivational purposes. The disrespect angle is eye roll-inducing, even in the rare case when Georgia’s players have a point.
Which brings us to the Joe Moore Award.
Established eight years ago, the award goes to the offensive line voted by a panel as the best in the country. Two years ago, it went to Michigan, which a few weeks later had the second-best offensive line in the Orange Bowl against Georgia, which was not one of four finalists for the award. A year later, Georgia was one of two finalists — and again lost out to Michigan.
On Tuesday, Georgia was announced as one of a dozen finalists for the award, which caused Zion Logue, a Georgia nose tackle who plays against that line in practice, to scoff.
“They should be a three-time Joe Moore Award winner,” Logue said. “I’m just gonna throw that out there. Those guys, they pride themselves on that, on being the best offensive line in the country, which I believe.”
Logue is biased. Numbers are not, and they do make a good case for the Bulldogs.
Semifinalist – Joe Moore Award
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) November 14, 2023
Georgia and Oregon are the only two teams that rank in the FBS top 10 in two key categories that indicate offensive line performance: Pass pressure rate allowed and yards before contact per rush.
Georgia’s pressure rate is 16.2 percent, per TruMedia, second-best in the country. And its quarterback has been pressured on just 8.9 percent of drop-backs, lowest in the country.
UGA rushers have averaged 2.8 yards before contact per rush this season, 10th most in the FBS. And it should be noted the Bulldogs dealt with tailback injuries much of the year, only recently having their top two (Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton) both fully healthy.
More on the run blocking:
• In all, 49.1 percent of Georgia’s rush yards have come before contact this season, the fifth-highest share in the FBS.
• Georgia has attempted 33 rushes on third-and-3 or shorter this season. On 17 of them (51.5 percent), UGA ball carriers had already reached or were beyond the line to gain before they were first contacted. That’s nearly 12 percentage points better than the national average (39.8 percent).
More on the pass blocking:
• Has Georgia faced elite pass-rushers this year? Maybe not. Tennessee, with the ninth-most sacks at 33, will be the best pass rush Georgia has faced this year, and Alabama has 32. But Ole Miss has 31 — zero against Georgia.
• Georgia’s FBS opponents have combined to produce a 32.8 percent pressure rate against teams other than Georgia this season. That would still rank among the FBS top 50. So not a terrible group of opponents.
This is all happening a year after losing both starting tackles: Broderick Jones was a first-round pick, Warren McClendon, a fifth-round pick — plus tight end Darnell Washington, a key blocker who went in the third round. And while junior Amarius Mims is a possible first-round pick, he missed six games after ankle surgery before returning for the Ole Miss game.
There’s still plenty of talent left: Center Sedrick Van Pran-Granger and right guard Tate Ratledge also look like future pros. But the unit has also had to depend on youngsters like left tackle Earnest Greene and left guard Dylan Fairchild, and moved senior Xavier Truss around a lot, including both guard spots and left guard.
Ratledge was asked how it’s working.
“It’s because we have a really close unit. We’ve all played a lot of football together,” Ratledge said. “We know how other people are going to play next to us. I know how Sed’s going to react to certain situations, Sed knows how I’m going to react. I know how Mims is going to react, he knows how I’m going to react. Things like that. It’s the cohesiveness we’ve built since being here as freshmen, and I think it’s really showing up.”
It’s also been a good job managing and teaching by offensive line coach Stacy Searels, in his second year of his second stint in Athens. When Searels, who left Georgia after the 2010 season, was brought back by Kirby Smart after the 2021 season, there were raised eyebrows from fans who wanted newer blood. But the on-field product is vindicating Smart’s decision.
Part of that decision was alignment with the offensive coordinator: Searels had worked with Todd Monken at LSU and with Mike Bobo at Georgia.
“The coordinator (with) the offensive line is a big deal. That is his go-to guy,” Smart said. “They want to have a good relationship and a good understanding, and philosophies need to marry up. That was really important to Monken in that hire. Once we hired Mike, it was a no-brainer. (Searels) had already been a coordinator and had worked with everybody in the room.”
There are, of course, at least four games remaining in the season, and this next game at Tennessee could be the biggest challenge, as Ratledge acknowledged. Tennessee sophomore defensive lineman James Pearce Jr. has eight sacks, second-most in the SEC, and there’s talent around him.
“They’re really physical, probably the most physical group we’ve played all year, just watching film,” Ratledge said. “They get vertical off the ball, are really good at getting that first step on the line and getting knock-back.”
So another chance for the Joe Moore Award committee to feel good about overlooking Georgia. Or a chance for the this offensive line to impress and move towards clinching — and force the program to find something else to be mad about.
(Photo of Georgia offensive linemen Amarius Mims, left, and Tate Ratledge: Todd Kirkland / Getty Images)