Isaiah Wilson pushing Georgia's offense to sustained success

Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson (79) blocks Tennessee linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. (34) as tight end Isaac Nauta (18) returns a fumble for a touchdown during a Southeastern Conference football game at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 in Athens, Ga.

Midway through the second quarter of the Southeastern Conference championship game, Georgia redshirt freshman right tackle Isaiah Wilson displayed why he was a five-star talent in Kirby Smart's 2017 signing class.

With the Bulldogs facing a second-and-10 from their 49-yard line, Wilson became a 6-foot-7, 340-pound wall that contained Alabama defensive end Raekwon Davis and linebacker Mack Wilson, which allowed D'Andre Swift to run around the edge for a 20-yard gain. On the ensuing play, Swift appeared to be stopped for a minimal pickup until Wilson and the other linemen pushed the pile for a 13-yard gain.

photo Georgia redshirt freshman right tackle Isaiah Wilson, shown here celebrating in an October win over Vanderbilt, has started all 13 games for the 11-2 Bulldogs. (University of Georgia photo)

Georgia scored two plays later to take a 21-7 lead in its eventual 35-28 loss, and Wilson proved throughout that game that he could be a formidable force against the very best.

"I just think there is a want-to with me and with this entire line," Wilson said afterward. "When we see our guys with the ball, we want to help them and push them further."

The Bulldogs have used four starting offensive line combinations this season, but Wilson has been a 13-game staple at right tackle, as have Lamont Gaillard at center and Solomon Kindley at left guard. Sophomore left tackle Andrew Thomas missed only the victory over Middle Tennessee due to injury, giving Georgia the stability it has needed to not only match but surpass last season's offensive success.

Georgia (11-2) will enter its New Year's night matchup against Texas (9-4) in the Sugar Bowl averaging 39.2 points, 478.8 total yards and 251.6 rushing yards per contest. Last season's Bulldogs, who won the SEC and the Rose Bowl before finishing 13-2, averaged 35.4 points, 435.3 yards and 258.4 rushing yards a game.

The Bulldogs have excelled this season despite losing left tackle Isaiah Wynn and running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, who were selected among the first 35 picks in the 2018 NFL draft, with Wilson and the rest of Sam Pittman's front making sure there would be no drop-off whatsoever.

"It was just the next man up for us," Wilson said. "We've got a great offensive line coach, and he always makes sure everyone knows what they're doing and that we're always communicating. Everyone we have is talented and wants to do well, and when you have a group of guys like that, it's hard to be bad."

Wilson played 95 percent of the snaps in Georgia's eight SEC games during the regular season, when the Bulldogs swept their Eastern Division opposition by double digits for a second straight year.

"Isaiah has the right mental makeup, and he has the right demeanor," Smart said. "He does have to take care of his body, but he's a talented young man with a great personality."

Georgia will start its on-campus Sugar Bowl workouts today and Saturday, with Smart scheduled to meet with the media on Monday.

The Bulldogs have a chance in New Orleans for a fifth season with at least 12 wins, and with Wilson, Thomas and Kindley returning along with a trio - Ben Cleveland, Cade Mays and Trey Hill - who started at right guard, there will be no shortage of expectations moving forward.

"We all want to be physical, and we all want to succeed," Wilson said. "I think things have gone well, but I definitely know that I want to get better. I think things will continue to look up from here."

Award winners

Gaillard, defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, running back Elijah Holyfield and sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm have been named as Georgia's permanent captains for the 2018 season. The captains were voted on by Bulldogs players at a recent team gala.

Fromm and Swift were named Vince Dooley offensive most valuable players, with Ledbetter and cornerback Deandre Baker earning Vince Dooley defensive players of the year.

The Senior Scholar Award went to tight end Jackson Harris, who has a 3.74 grade point average in mechanical engineering.

Odds and ends

Georgia has sold out its Sugar Bowl ticket allotment of 15,500. ... Gaillard, offensive lineman Kendall Baker, defensive tackle Michael Barnett, safety J.R. Reed and kicker Rodrigo Blankenship will go through graduation ceremonies this morning.

Contact David or 423-757-6524.