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August 31, 2019 Nashville: Georgia tight end Eli Wolf picks up yardage against Vanderbilt during the second half in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, August 31, 2019, in Nashville. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Wake-up call: Kirby Smart says Georgia football faces mental challenge at Vanderbilt

ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart has told his Bulldogs to prepare for a mental challenge against Vanderbilt, but it has nothing to do with the perception of the Commodores’ academic image

“We have to be ready to go early, (and) the big thing is who handles the mental edge of kicking off early,” Smart said about the noon kickoff time while appearing on his Bulldogs Live coach’s show with Scott Howard Thursday night.

“We’d like to think we’re prepared for that, but you don’t know until you go up there and do it.”

The Bulldogs mental clock might be set on “revenge” after Vanderbilt skipped out on playing a scheduled game in Athens twice last season, citing COVID concerns.

It was Georgia’s “Senior Day,” and not playing the Commodores cost the departing seniors a chance at becoming the winningest class in the Bulldogs’ football history.

Some have suggested the returning Bulldogs’ players might add motivation, but Smart seemed to downplay that.

RELATED: Former Georgia AD Greg McGarity ‘angry’ over Vandy cancellations

“It was more about a home game right, it’s about our last home game and for the seniors,” Smart said. “I wanted it because they had meant so much for our program and so many of them had been through, you know, a turnaround, and I just wanted the game for them.

“When the interim coach called me I was hurt, but I understood it was beyond his control, and it is what it is.”

Another thing that is what it is, is that Smart is keenly aware that his talented Georgia teams are no less vulnerable to early kicks than other programs.

Smart is 4-3 in noon SEC kickoffs (.571) while an impressive 50-11 (.820) in games outside of the early time slot.

Georgia also plays host to Arkansas in a noon game in Athens on Oct. 2.

But first things first, the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (3-0) face Vanderbilt (1-2) in the Music City.

RELATED: Georgia favored to drum Vanderbilt by 5 touchdowns in Nashville

“I’m not gonna say I love it, but here’s what I like about it: It challenges you, because both teams are starting at the same time,” Smart said. “You control what you can control and what we control is how we play and how we prepared.

“We talked about it all week, and we talked about the mental edge of it.”

Smart said that “one of our DNA traits is toughness, so that includes mental and physical toughness.”

The early kick time means Georgia won’t have the opportunity to feed off the crowd, as it has the first three games.

“So which team is going to be mentally tougher and ready to prepare the right way, to not need outside motivation to get you going?” Smart said.

“We know warmups are going to be at 10 am (local time). There’s not going to be a lot of people in those stands, so you’ve got to get yourself mentally prepared before you even go out there.”

Georgia noon kicks under Kirby Smart

2020

Georgia 49, Missouri 14

Georgia 14, Kentucky 3

2019

South Carolina 20, Georgia 17 (OT)

2018

Georgia 43, Missouri 29

2017

Georgia 45, Vanderbilt 14

2016

Ole Miss 45, Georgia 14

Vanderbilt 17, Georgia 16