November 17, 2011

A Friend indeed

Will Friend's mantra is a simple one - just improve and get better every day.

Do that, he says, and you've got the chance to have a successful offensive line. Thus far, Friend has been proven correct.

As Georgia gets ready to challenge Kentucky on Saturday (12:21, SEC Network) with a trip to the SEC Championship game on the line, at least part of the Bulldogs' current surge can be attributed to the play of the of the offensive line.

"The best thing that's happened this year is the guys have gotten better each week and they've improved each week," Friend said. "Some of it, guys like Cordy Glenn who has moved to a new position has gotten better, Justin Anderson with the time off has gotten better and whichever of the new guards (Chris Burnette and Kenarious Gates) who was in there has improved while Ben Jones has held together. But we've got to keep getting better. We've got to be better this week than we were last week."

That would be quite a feat.

Like every other aspect of Georgia's game, the offensive line was dominant in last week's 45-7 win over Auburn, helping the Bulldogs pound out 528 total yards, 304 of which came on the ground.

"Yeah, I think they played their best game to date," Friend said. "I think they were comfortable with what they needed to do assignment wise and they did have a good week of practice assignment-wise. They were ready to play."

Head coach Mark Richt has been impressed with the former four-year starter at Alabama, a disciple of former Bulldog assistant Neil Callaway and long-time NFL assistant Kim Helton, under who Friend worked for four years at UAB before taking the Georgia job.

"I really like what (offensive line coach) Will (Friend) has done. We knew Will was a good coach. I think the greatest compliment you can give a guy is you'll say, 'He's a ball coach.' He loves football. He loves his family, he loves those linemen, and he loves the game of football. He's kind of a low-maintenance guy. The guys know he loves them and he cares about them," Richt said. "They also know he knows what he's talking about, and he's a joy to work with really. He has a lot of good suggestions. Some line coaches only see their picture. They don't really see the big picture. Will sees the big picture. I think some line coaches want to do nothing but hammer the run no matter what. It's kind of a macho thing. I think Will knows it takes a little bit of everything to be good up front. You can't just run the power every down and win. He understands those things. He's done a good job."

Redshirt sophomore and Bulldog offensive guard Chris Burnette was attending a Christian retreat in Alabama when he got the word that Friend was being hired to replace Stacy Searels, who left to accept a job at Texas.

At the camp were players from many different schools, including UAB, who Burnette quickly hit up to get their impressions of his future position coach.

"I just asked them what kind of guy Coach Friend was, what kind of coach he was, what he expects. All I heard was great things about him and sure enough when he got here and we got to meet him before spring practice started, he lived up to all the hype," Burnette said. "The fact he played and did so well in his career it really makes us understand and respect him because you know he knows what he's talking about and if we do what Coach tells us we're going to be fine."

Statistically, Georgia's offensive line is making some obvious strides enough where Jones has earned back-to-back SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week awards after grading out at 85 percent against New Mexico State and Auburn.

Quarterback Aaron Murray offered the line its biggest compliments to date for their showing against Auburn, while taking a good-natured dig at his offensive coordinator.

"Those holes were so big that Coach (Mike) Bobo could have run through," said Murray, after watching Isaiah Crowell run for 132 yards and Carlton Thomas 127.

In the area of pass protection, the Bulldogs have also improved, allowing eights sacks in their past five games after surrendering 11 against Boise State, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Mississippi State earlier this year.

Burnette thinks Friend deserves his share of credit for molding the offensive line into the shape it's currently in.

"I think he should get a lot. I think a lot of it had to do what he's done communication-wise, how he's tried to simplify a couple of things where we understand better what he's trying to do, just working hard," Burnette said. "The main thing he stresses is to just go out and give effort every single time, not to worry about mistakes, but just to go as hard as we can. Coach Friend stresses that to us so much and to play to the best of our ability."

Of course, Friend is quick to point out that a little good fortune helps.

When the season began, the Bulldogs only had five offensive linemen with any actually college experience, a number that quickly shrunk to four after losing Trinton Sturdivant with his third torn ACL.

One of the newcomers who was performing very well - guard Dallas Lee - broke his right leg against Florida, stretching the depth even further while freshmen Watts Dantzler, David Andrews, Hunter Long and redshirt sophomore Austin Long continue to improve.

"You can't play with five at a time, but with all teams, especially with linemen and repetition, if you keep pushing toward the goal of getting better each time when you go out there," Friend said. "This bunch has done that."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]