Tampa Bay Times

Line dance at Georgia pays off for former Lakewood High standout

- BY MATT BAKER Times Staff Writer Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com.

When starter Tyler Catalina left for the NFL, Georgia coaches approached Lakewood High alumnus Isaiah Wynn with a proposal: slide from left guard to left tackle for 2017.

“It wasn’t much of a conversati­on,” Wynn said. “It was just a move that the coaches made that they thought would be best not only for me but also for the team.”

It has worked out for everyone involved, boosting a muchimprov­ed offensive line that has the 7-0 Bulldogs ranked third in the country entering today’s rivalry game against Florida.

Only 13 teams have allowed fewer sacks than Georgia (eight). The Bulldogs are allowing 1.3 fewer tackles for loss this season than last, and they were among 21 teams recognized at midseason by the Joe Moore Award, which honors the nation’s most outstandin­g offensive line.

The successful blocking is obvious in the success of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, two of the SEC’s top eight rushers. Georgia ran for 370 yards in its most recent game (against Missouri), and its 423 rushing yards against Vanderbilt were the program’s most in 30 years.

“I think they’ve done a really good job of putting the guys in place,” Gators coach Jim McElwain said. “That offensive line is really playing well.”

Wynn cites several reasons for the unit’s growth. It’s the second year under coach Kirby Smart, so the coaching staff and players have figured each other out. The line improved its chemistry with offseason cookouts and trips to Atlanta’s Dave & Buster’s.

Smart said Wynn has performed well in his new role as the blindside tackle.

The 6-foot-2, 302-pound senior entered the year with 26 starts, almost all at left guard. He had experience at tackle at Lakewood, where he was a four-star recruit on a team that made the Class 5A state semifinals. He took reps there last season, too, so the adjustment wasn’t huge — which explains why he earned some midseason All-America buzz.

“He plays with really good toughness,” Smart said. “He’s got great balance and body control. I think he’s been a tremendous asset.”

How big of an asset might be revealed today against a UF defense that had eight tackles for a loss last year in Jacksonvil­le. Although UF is reeling from messes on and off the field, the Gators have beaten the Bulldogs each of the past three seasons.

“These past few years, they’ve been getting us,” Wynn said. “This year’s a whole different culture. It’s a whole other year.”

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