ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart hasn’t, wouldn’t and couldn’t stop talking about the physicality of the Kentucky offense and defensive fronts the past two weeks.
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (3-1), Smart says, will be put to the test by a dangerous groups of Wildcats (2-3) who are coming off their worst performance of the season last week at Missouri.
“Sometimes the most dangerous team you play is a team that didn’t play their best game,” Smart said on his Thursday night coach’s show.
“They’ve had ups and downs, and they’ve usually followed an average or poor performance with a good performance, and we’re coming off one that we think we can get better on,” said Smart, whose program brings a 10-game win streak in the series with Kentucky into Saturday’s noon game (TV: SEC Network).
“So you’ve got two teams headed right at each other that are both well coached and both have good experience on the defensive side of the ball, so it should make for a great matchup.”
Smart didn’t come right out and identify keys to the game, but it’s pretty obvious what needs to happen for the Bulldogs to prevail:
Establish the run
Smart has big concerns about Kentucky’s pressure package, and the best way to neutralize a pass rush is with an effective run game.
“The best thing they do is create disruptive rushers, they aren’t in the same defense every time,” Smart said. “They fire their inside linebackers, they have really good outside linebackers, the strength of their team are the two guys on the edge that can rush, and they do a nice job of bringing those guys in different looks.
“You never feel really comfortable with what they are doing because they give you different looks.”
The best way to get comfortable is first down success running the ball.
Rattle Joey Gatewood
The Auburn transfer is a big, athletic quarterback making his first career start, and he has a lot of talent and a high upside.
Kentucky will surely try to protect him with a run game and move the pocket enough that Georgia can’t get him behind the line of scrimmage and create down-and-distance situations.
Smart made it clear it won’t be easy.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever played an offensive line that has as many starts as they do,
they have a lot of experience on the offensive line,” Smart said. “Those guys have been really productive. “After the game you ask your kids, ‘How physical was the game?’ They always talk about the Kentucky game being a physical game.
Georgia has yet to score points on an opening possession this season, and the Bulldogs have only two field goals on four opening drives of the second half of their games.
Beyond that, Smart is 2-3 in SEC games that start at noon, and he’s challenging his team to make sure they are ready for the early kickoff on Saturday in Lexington.
Does the early kick make the game more dangerous?
“Only if you don’t handle it right, it’s one of those things, you have to manage that,” Smart said. “People can use it for an excuse.
“We’re trying to use it as an opportunity to get better and take it head on, and go get ready to play. At the end of the day, you control you, and our guys have to do a good job managing that.”