The Georgia Bulldogs have sustained their share of injuries at quarterback, tailback and receiver this season, but the offensive line has stayed intact.
Kenarious Gates, Dallas Lee, David Andrews, Chris Burnette, John Theus and Kolton Houston combined to make the 60 starts up front during the regular season, with Houston making one start for Lee at left guard and five starts for Theus at right tackle. Gates started all 12 games at left tackle, as did Andrews at center and Burnette at right guard.
The Bulldogs played without top tailback Todd Gurley for a month and played without top receiver Malcolm Mitchell after the opening quarter of the season opener, but they enter Wednesday's Gator Bowl matchup with Nebraska averaging 489.8 yards a game. Georgia on Friday morning held its first of four practices in Jacksonville.
"I feel like we've done a decent job," Burnette said. "There were a lot of things we could have done better, but I think we're leaving a good base for the guys coming back next year, because I think a lot more guys have gotten playing time. We had more of a rotation this year, and I think that will be good for the future.
"Looking back, there are always things you wish you could do differently and do better, but I'm not leaving with any regrets."
Burnette, Andrews and Gates will be representing the Bulldogs for the final time in Jacksonville after combining for 76 of a possible 78 starts the past two seasons.
The Bulldogs allowed four sacks in the opener at Clemson and five in the regular-season finale at Georgia Tech, when new starting quarterback Hutson Mason took the blame for holding the ball too long. In the 10 games in between, Georgia allowed just nine sacks.
Gurley has averaged 6.3 yards a carry when healthy, and freshman tailback J.J. Green has averaged 5.9 when thrust into action.
"I think our offensive line in general over the past two years has played extremely well," coach Mark Richt said. "We were really concerned going into last season. We thought we were in trouble, but they found a way to rally and become a part of an offense that did some really special things. This year, they really just continued to play well. There were some moments where we got whipped individually, but game in and game out, they came to play and fought hard.
"They knew what to do, and they created the space and the time that the quarterback needed, they created the space and the time that the backs needed to get started, and I'm proud of the job that they've done."
Theus and Houston could be the starting tackles next season, with Mark Beard potentially the top backup at either spot. Hunter Long is currently the backup center, with Brandon Kublanow and former Dalton High standout Watts Dantzler the backup guards looking to claim starting roles.
It's a collection Theus believes will surprise people when its time comes.
For now, however, the Gator Bowl gives this year's experienced group more time to shine. The Bulldogs did not have any All-SEC first- or second-team selections on the offensive front, but the line stayed together and has given Georgia a chance to amass more than 6,000 yards for a second consecutive season.
"You can always struggle playing against the competition we have, but as a whole I feel like we did a pretty decent job," Burnette said. "Missouri was the toughest, because all four guys across that defensive line are good athletes and can rush the passer. They were also very disciplined in what they did.
"Even if there were games where we didn't start out well, I feel we were able to gain composure and fix the things that went wrong. I think we had a good season."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...