ATHENS — It’s homecoming week for Georgia, but it seems no one in the Classic City has been in the mood to celebrate.
A shocking loss to unranked South Carolina, accompanied by cooler weather and less sunshine, has seemingly cast gloom over a Bulldogs’ football program that once appeared on track for its first national championship since 1980.
Coach Kirby Smart has remained calm, indicating his program will stay the course and merely execute at a higher level. That starts with the 6 p.m. game on Saturday against Kentucky in Sanford Stadium.
Georgia doesn’t have the time or the personnel for any sort of an overhaul on offense. But the game with the Wildcats and the ensuing bye week does provide time for one final tune-up before a decisive stretch in November.
First things first, the Bulldogs have to get by and upset-minded Kentucky team that will be brimming with confidence after seeing how easy South Carolina made it look last Saturday.
Here are three keys to the game for Georgia.
It’s hard to pinpoint when the Bulldogs turned into a finesse program, but for the most part, the 2019 squad has not brought an intimidating presence. Smart, himself, said that had better change before the Wildcats arrive in Athens.
“I think their staff has gotten them really physical when you look across the board,” Smart said on the SEC teleconference. “They’ve been able to run the ball and stop the run the last couple years in the SEC, so it’ll be a physical battle come Saturday night.”
The physicality needs to take place on offense as well as defense. The Bulldogs offensive line needs to find its nasty. The linebackers need to strike fear. The receiving corps must show it can handle physical press man coverage as well as step up its downfield blocking.
Score early, score often
Remember when Georgia scored touchdowns on its first three drives against Vanderbilt in the season-opening game? If not, here’s your reminder — never mind the Bulldogs didn’t score a touchdown the final 38 minutes against the Commodores in the 30-6 win.
Really, has the Georgia offense been much fun to watch since the first quarter in Nashville?
In this case a fast start is needed to get some confidence back into the Bulldogs players, who have seemed uncertain during interviews this week leading up to the game. The players are most often saying the right things, but the conviction hasn’t been there.
One of the key things Smart has had going for him is buy-in from his players. But if Georgia’s coaching staff wants to maintain the degree of commitment it gets from players, the play calls and techniques need to yield results.
Before anyone points out Kentucky is playing with what’s essentially a fourth-string quarterback — a wide receiver at that — remember that it was South Carolina’s third-string quarterback that ultimately led the Gamecocks to a victory last Saturday.
Georgia football swagger is officially on hold for now, not scheduled to return until after a win over Florida, at the earliest.
Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden rushed for 196 yards from the QB position in a 24-20 win over Arkansas last Saturday, and their attack throws a twist at Georgia’s conventional defensive approaches.
The Bulldogs don’t have to stop Bowden, just contain him. UGA will be challenged to maintain its streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown this season, and the linebackers and safeties will be tested on their open-field tackling.
There were times against South Carolina Georgia had a linebacker assigned as a “spy” for the Gamecocks quarterback, and the linebacker still missed the open-field tackle.
Georgia-Kentucky Game Week