ATHENS — Stop. The. Run.
Kirby Smart has said it at every turn. The Georgia football players have talked about it in every interview. Fans are tired are hearing about it.
But at 3:30 p.m. in Sanford Stadium, they will see a concerted Bulldogs’ effort to take away the one thing Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt wants his defense to hang its hat on.
“Moving forward I’m not really concerned about who we’re playing coming up, I’m worried about who we’re playing right now,” Smart said. “The biggest, most important thing to me is stopping the run.”
Smart’s No. 2-ranked Georgia program is a heavy favorite, 31 points as of Saturday morning, but the Vols are a rival that gets Smart’s blood pumping.
“They run with a purpose, they run with an attitude,” Smart said, “they run with an intent to hurt.”
There’s been no shortage of chippy plays in this rivalry, and fanbases quickly recall injuries to Nick Chubb and Shy Tuttle, and the unfortunate social media fallout in the aftermath.
“We know it’s gonna be kind of a chippy game, real physical game,” Bulldogs tailback D’Andre Swift said, “because that’s the type of team that they are.”
It starts in the trenches, where Tennessee and Georgia look to impose their wills on one another with the run game.
Smart said Missouri’s offensive line “outmanned” the Bulldogs in the trenches last week.
“If you asked me what the one most disappointing thing, they were able to run the ball, especially in the low-red (zone) area,” Smart said. It’s one thing to run it in the field, but they ran it in the low-red area, which is concerning for us, because that’s not who we are.”
Georgia senior linebacker Natrez Patrick indicated the Bulldogs took a long look in the mirror after surrendering four rushing touchdowns in the 43-29 win at Missouri.
“I take that very personal and this defense takes it personal, that’s something we pride ourselves on, stopping the run, stopping the run is the No. 1 priority,” Patrick said. “It’s feeding fuel to the fire … everyone has a chip on their shoulder.”
Smart has made it clear what it will take to stop the Tennessee run game.
“If you don’t strike people, you won’t stop the run in our league — you will not stop the run in our league,” Smart said. “So you’ve got to strike people and be physical up front in order to do it.”