Kirby Smart calls on ‘Next man up’ and Georgia fans, injuries threatening championship quest

100221 ATHENS: Georgia fans fill the stadium for a top-10 showdown with Arkansas in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

ATHENS — Attrition could prove the biggest hurdle for Georgia football to clear if the Bulldogs are to win their first national championship since 1980.

All-American transfer Tykee Smith was reportedly lost for the season on Wednesday on account of a torn ACL just days after he made his debut in a Georgia uniform.

The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (6-0, 4-0 SEC) play host to No. 11 Kentucky (6-0, 4-0) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday before an open date.

Smart said earlier this season he didn’t remember ever having this many injuries, and the situation continues to worsen, challenging the team’s depth and development of players.

“It’s the next-man-up mentality,” Smart said. “That’s what we talked about all week. It’s going to be the next man up no matter who’s in. We had a lot of guys hurt and beat up including the quarterback.”

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The challenge Kentucky presents looms large, and then Georgia will need the time off for rest and rehabilitation the off week will allow for more than ever.

Smith, an All-American from West Virginia, is the second projected started to be lost for the season in a secondary that has grown perilously thin, joining cornerback Jalen Kimber (shoulder).

RELATED: Tykee Smith reportedly out for season, transfer played in one game

Senior Ameer Speed, a steady veteran at cornerback, is expected to miss his second straight game on account of an ankle injury suffered in practice.

Georgia lost eight defensive backs after last season — five moved on to the NFL, and another three transferred out to earn playing time at other schools.

Smart said after the 34-10 win over Auburn last Saturday that the growing list of injuries is not related to more physical practices.

“I’m not thinking about what everybody thinks about the injuries, I’m thinking about what we can do to get the players we have in the best places to be successful,” Smart said. “It’s what coaches do. They take what they have and what they have healthy and they go.

“These aren’t injuries that are occurring because we’re banging in practice. That’s not the case.”

Kentucky figures to be one of the most physical games of the season, just as it was last year in Lexington.

“It’s just bloody when you go against those guys,” Smart said, “and it’s both ways.”

Tykee Smith’s injury brings attention to starting safety Christopher Smith’s status for the game. Christopher Smith suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday and was in a non-contact jersey for this week’s practices.

With Christopher Smith and Tykee Smith both out, the Bulldogs might need to count on Dan Jackson to play safety alongside Lewis Cine. Latavious Brini, who plays the star, had been cross-training at safety and might have been an option there had Tykee Smith not suffered the knee injury.

However it shakes out, Smart will be counting on assignment-sound football as Kentucky features the SEC’s leading receiver in Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson (527 yards, 37 catches).

The Bulldogs will count on their dominant front seven to keep the pressure on QB Will Levis, a transfer from Penn State.

And Smart will also count on the Sanford Stadium crowd to make calling plays and snap counts challenging for Levis.

“I think our fans are educated enough to know the importance of this one, (and) their impact could be the difference in the game,” Smart said. “I don’t think sometimes they acknowledge that because they think that everything’s going to be easy and it’s going to be home. You can’t think that way. You can’t be apathetic as a fan and think ‘well, we’re Georgia.’ That’s not the case because this is a high-quality football team.

“We need the extra advantage of playing at home just like we had to go up against it last going to Auburn. We need that same advantage this week.”

Here’s an updated list of injured Georgia players

TE Darnell Washington (foot) probable

WR Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (ankle) probable

OL Jamaree Salyer (ankle) probable

WR Jermaine Burton (groin), questionable

QB JT Daniels (strained lat), questionable

RB Kenny McIntosh (hamstring) questionable

SS Christopher Smith (shoulder) questionable

WR Arian Smith (shin) questionable

DB Tykee Smith (knee) out

CB Ameer Speed (ankle) out

WR Dominick Blaylock (hamstring) out

CB Jalen Kimber (shoulder), out

LB Trezman Marshall (knee), out

DL Julian Rochester (knee), out

WR George Pickens (knee), out

OL Tate Ratledge (foot), out

L:B Rian Davis (quad), out

WE Arik Gilbert (personal), out

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