ORLANDO, Fla. — For Nebraska to successfully handle the unconventional looks from Georgia's defense, the offensive line can't overlook the little things, its most veteran contributor said.
The Bulldogs vary their alignments up front, positioning their linemen and linebackers deceptively around the line of scrimmage. Sometimes, they'll rush four. Often, it's five. In pass-first situations, six or seven blitz.
And since it's not always easy to tell who's coming, unforced errors will only make things tougher on NU, junior tackle Jeremiah Sirles said.
“It comes down to one guy going the wrong way. It comes down to one guy not hearing the call,” said Sirles, who has 27 career starts. “It's all five of us as an offensive unit — and the (running) back — (we) have to be on the same page to pick up the blitzes.”
They have to be technique-sound, too, Sirles said.
The offensive tackles can't get too overwhelmed by the speed-rush ability of Georgia's linebackers — notably play-making All-American Jarvis Jones, a 241-pounder who's totaled 22.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks on the season. There's also 232-pounder Alec Ogletree, who has a team-high 98 tackles. And Jordan Jenkins, a 257-pound freshman who's been credited with 21 quarterback hurries (behind only Jones' 33).
Those players are quick enough to run right around the edge, but powerful enough to overpower bigger-bodied blockers, Sirles said. So if you overcompensate, you could get beat.
“Those linebackers, they're strong guys,” Sirles said. “They'll catch you off guard if you're not ready.”
And inside, the Bulldogs have the kind of size that tends to clog lanes, or maybe even collapse a pocket. Starter John Jenkins is out, but his backup is a 6-foot-6, 356-pound junior (Kwame Geathers). Jones and other linebackers can rush up the middle, too.
Top Husker center Justin Jackson, who's injured but still in meetings and studying film, said he told his teammates on the interior to simply play hard, and not worry about any potential on-paper mismatches.
“You don't have time to second guess,” he said. “Be the first one to sink your helmet in and go.”
But Georgia's scheme makes opponents think and, consequently, throws them off their game.
The Bulldogs run a 3-4 base defense, playing three down linemen and four linebackers. But at times, only two linemen will have a hand on the ground before the snap while defensive end Cornelius Washington stands up like a linebacker. The rest of the linebackers will either serve as decoys or they'll charge toward the quarterback.
Sirles said Georgia regularly rushes five defenders to create one-on-one matchups with linemen.
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Nebraska's Kyler Reed expects he and fellow tight end Ben Cotton to carry a larger role in pass protection.
“With guys like Jarvis Jones coming off the edge, it's nice to put a hand on them so they don't get up to full speed against our tackles,” Reed said. “Kind of help our guys out.”
Nebraska's O-line struggled to respond properly to disguised fronts against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, especially in passing situations.
Avoiding third-and-long is an obvious key. But establishing a fast-paced tempo is also important for the NU offense, Cotton said.
“We try to catch them off guard, hopefully not let them line up,” he said.
If that doesn't happen, it's up to the offensive linemen to do whatever it takes to create running lanes and keep the pocket clean, Sirles said.
“We just need to be more sound technique-wise and fundamental-wise and we'll be able to pick things up,” Sirles said.
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