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Georgia football takes on Kentucky on Saturday.

To earn possible Alabama rematch, UGA must replicate post-off week success of past seasons

Since Georgia really got up and running as a program in 2017, the Bulldogs have entered the off week with a loss three times, including this season. The 2017 season, where Georgia won the Rose Bowl and played for the national title, was the only time it went into the off week with an unbeaten record.

In the past two seasons, Georgia though did bounce back from that early season loss and won each of its remaining regular season games after the open date. The Bulldogs have needed to play perfect after the off week in part to win the SEC East and secure a berth in the SEC championship game but also to keep alive their hopes of making the College Football Playoff.

Now following the loss to Alabama, Georgia is asked to once again play a near unbeaten record after the off week if the Bulldogs are to achieve their goals.

“Kirby stresses the fact that we control our destiny and I believe that,” safety Lewis Cine said.  “We have a goal ahead of us and we’re going to work towards that goal. At the end of the day we’re going to keep progressing until we get to that goal.”

Over the past three seasons, Georgia is 14-1 after its bye week, with the lone loss coming on the road to Auburn in 2017. Of those games, Georgia is 10-1 in SEC games, which is what the Bulldogs will face the rest of the way.

One difference between the 2020 season and the past three is that the Bulldogs have six games following the open date as opposed to the usual five. The reason for the additional game is that Georgia’s game against Kentucky was originally set to come before the off week.

But due to a COVID outbreak at Florida, the SEC reworked the schedule and moved the Kentucky game back a week. Given though the physical style that Kentucky plays, the off week change may have been fortuitous given how Georgia looked against Alabama on Oct. 17.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart did think that the off week practices went well for the Bulldogs, as it allowed them to focus on some of the issues specific to the team, as opposed to just diving straight into the opponent.

“I thought that the three practices we had were really good in terms of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” Smart said. “They were very specific to what each individual needed to work on and grow at, a lot of competitive reps, a lot of what we call group periods, where we work on individual things.

“They are safer in individual units than they are in 11-on-11, but we did a lot of 11-on-11 as well and tried to develop the depth that our roster — knowing and moving forward — that we are going to have to play some of these guys.”

After visiting the Wildcats, Georgia plays Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., visits Missouri, hosts Mississippi State, travels to South Carolina and then wraps up the season at home against Vanderbilt. While Florida is the only of those teams ranked but playing six straight SEC foes is still no stroll through the park.

The Bulldogs though have been here before and they know what it takes to run through the second half of the schedule.

“I feel like why we’re so successful after the bye week is all the preparation during the bye weeks,” defensive end Malik Herring said. “We just go hard and focus on each other like camp practices. I definitely have seen that this past week.”

Much of the debate about Georgia in the coming weeks will focus on the quarterback play and how it potentially improves. But Stetson Bennett was not the only player who had something to correct and improve on moving forward.

The Georgia pass rush for example, couldn’t pressure Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in the late stages of the game. That in turn made it more difficult for the secondary to keep up with Alabama’s wide receivers.

So a number of Georgia players used the well-timed off week to look back at what went so horribly wrong against the Crimson Tide, so that it can be improved going forward.

“Really just trying to get a fresh step for ourselves and see what we did wrong in the past game before the bye week,” Herring said. “Really get better at those things and techniques.”

Related: If UGA defense wants another shot at Alabama, it must first ‘out-fundamental’ Kentucky

Georgia knows it didn’t play its best game against Alabama. The Bulldogs will have to play better over the final six games if they are to win the SEC East for the fourth straight season.

They’ve been here before. And this time it does have the Alabama defeat and the possibility of a rematch as a motivating factor coming out of the bye week.

“That is fuel to the fire,” defensive lineman Travon Walker said on the prospect of facing Alabama again.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart talks how Georgia will play coming out of the bye week

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